Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Chemical dependency from birth

7% of 5,000 babies born in a Perth hospital (King Edward Memorial) have chemical dependency problems stemming from maternal illicit substance use. This has prompted the House of Representatives Families Committee to take evidence in WA tomorrow as part of its inquiry into the impact of drugs on families.

Chairman Bronwyn Bishop said it was important to hear from practitioners at the hospital about the problems faced by babies whose mothers have a drug dependency. They will give evidence on how maternal use of illicit drugs such as amphetamine, heroin, ecstasy and ice can affect fetal development and infant health.

I thought this was a stunning statistic given the extensive evidence on the effects of drugs on the unborn and infants. Consumption of drugs during pregnancy is responsible for 2-3% of birth defects and use of illicit addictive drugs raises the prospect of dependency and withdrawal as well as long-term adverse health effects for the child.

How can these irresponsible women live with themselves? Why do they have kids if they are dependent on drugs? What about the future of these unfortunate children?


derrida derider said...

In fact that figure is far too high to be credible on its own with out further enquiry.

Before reacting to it you'd want to look a bit further: eg Is the hospital a referral centre for pregnant women with health problems? What's the sample size? How is 'dependency problem' defined (is it just faint traces of a drug in the mother's blood at preganancy diagnosis, or is it the baby showing withdrawal symptoms)? What are the drugs (is it mostly alcohol and nicotine, or even caffeine)? Note the last might make it no less of a medical problem, but it would be guaranteed to change everyone's shock-horror reaction.

It'll be interesting to see if the Committee is interested in a fair dinkum assessment of the problem or just in whipping up a moral panic - judging by some of the personnel involved I wouldn't be confident it's not the latter.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

dd and hc - that hospital runs a specialist birth centre for addicted mothers (and babies)so I'd assume that the majority of at least metro addicted births go there.

I think, from memory, most babies from that centre go home within a 5 days stay period, indicating that althoughthere are syptoms of withdrawal/ addiction from drugs crossing the placenta, it's possibly at the lower end of the harm scale say compared to New Orleans or Chicago NYC.

I'm not sure what the designated level of drug in newborn is to qualify for inclusion in the stats, it may be (hopefully)relatively low.

Doing aquick search I can't find the research published related to that quote.

I'd want to see it before commenting.

Please note that that doesn't mean I'm not concerned but I usually try to convert my concern into action (with quantifiable succes sI might point out) to prevent or solve rather than write opeds in tabloids with whipped up populism and moral panic al a Bolt et al.

aaagh to have the luxury of being paid to feign outrage and pander to easy populism like Bolt and friends and never having to account for results with real people in real time.

NB: this is not a snide go at HC at all.

hc said...

OK maybe I jumped the gun a bit - I was shocked by the figure. I don't believe 7% of the overall population of mums are drug dependent but, even so, the figure is alarming. 7% of 5000 is 350 which is a lot even if it unrepresentatively samples the city.

Even if there are only minor traces of drugs - the reports I saw indicated real dependency issues - its a serious problem for these children.

I had a flip around and found that the figures for drinking during pregnancy and taking dangerous prescription drugs remain high despite health warnings.

fxh, With respect shouldn't we show some outrage at this. It is unreasonable to put infants in this situation.

Tanya said...

When I first saw these stats in the news, I wondered if they could be alternatively expressed as 'increased pregnancy rates among drug addicts'. Are more women becoming addicts? Are there effects associated with certain newly popular drugs - specifically, increased risky sexual activity associated with increased use of crystal meth? The news analysis has moral panic written all over it.

conrad said...

Actually, I don't think it is neccesarily alarmist (excluding if the figures are outright incorrect) -- even traces of drugs suggests that the mothers are taking various developmental toxins whilst pregnant. If these are taken in critical developmental periods which occur in pregnancy, then that is a fair bit of long term damage being done.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

harry - I agree that newborns shouldn't be in this predicament.

It's just that the use of outrage these days to me equates with huffing and puffing in teh media then seeking some kneejerk reaction from services or gov.

Anyway I'm sure you and I agree that it's not a good thing and we possible even agree on some solutions.

I'd still like to see the details of the study and how far the definition reaches. Like might it record traces of cannibis smoked in last week? Not neccessarily all bad.

It's always been pretty clear to me from various bits of evidence that for antenatal in particular and neonatal and first few years it is important for individual and population health to ensure that nutrition in particular is not compromised.

In fact it might be the single most cost effective health intervention.

So therefore that leads me to support giving pregnant mothers to be adequate food, nutrition, shelter and support irrespective of their circumstances. It's an investment in our future

The issue that comes closest to "outraging" me is child violence and deaths.

A large cohort of victims are children. And they are not killed by strangers, but by "partners" or parents. Same with bashings and violence. Same with sexual assault.

Yet the media and politicians persist in feeding the stranger danger myths.

hc said...

fxh, Violence against children including sexual; assault are terrible crimes. So is creating brain-damaged chemically dependent kids with high impulsiveness, few social skills and so on,

I am with Conrad on this one. Pregnant women should avoid all drugs - including prescription drugs. The evidence isn't clear but they probably should not smoke cigarettes because it is risky. And, on the grounds of risk, they definitely shouldn't drink at all.

I think people suppose that junkies cannot help it, they are trapped. That is baloney - they are human beings who can think and internalise risks. They can change their drug-taking behaviour.

conrad said...


I think the evidence is clear as water on smoking and pregnancy -- is there anybody saying it isn't? Also, on scientific grounds, I'm not against prescription drugs -- I believe many of them have been tested, and the risk profile of them is basically zero (say, versus fumes from leaded petrol which many of us inhaled growing up, and many in Asia still do). Achohol is more complex -- I believe there are now studies looking at ingestion of small amounts at different stages of pregnancy, and the effect is basically zero at some stages (not that I'd recommend it for the general public).

Also, unlike everyone else it seems, I don't find these stats surprising at all -- 7% with traces in their blood doesn't seem high to me, and thats bad. I should dig up the stats for that age group for the population at large and then see if people think it is surprising.

I also think another problem is that people are taking drugs before knowing they are pregnant. This is yet another problem if you are trying to get the most functional children you can.

hc said...

Conrad, I know the arguments that low levels of alcohol consumption might not harm the foetus. But given that high levels of consumption definitely does case damage who in the right mind would risk low consumption?

If prescription drugs must be taken of course do so - but try to avoid.

Anonymous said...

Dear Harry, I came upon your website tonite and wanted to post from a personal point of view. My name is Benita, and I live in the USA in New Mexico. I adopted two cousins who were 11 and 13(now 28 and 26). Both were born to my 1st cousins who married(dont ask me how they did that) and both were drug and alcohol addicts. A and L were both born Fetal Alcohol/Drug babies. While i tried very hard to raise them with an understanding of their problems, both ingnored everything I could do for them and did there own way. I adopted A's second baby who was born FAS/Drug addicted. and L's last baby who was born a Crystal Meth baby with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. I also adopted a 3rd child, no relation who had the cord wrapped around his neck at birth.
A's baby E is now 8 years old. He was subjected to a fifth a day of Jack Daniels, and every thing from weed to cocaine, qualudes, meth, what ever she could get her hands on. He is diagnosed now along with the Fas dx, he has Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder(ARND), ADHD, ODD, PDD, Mental Disorders NOS. bi polar, mild autim and possible childhood Schizophrenia.
L's baby J is now 5 he is dx a meth baby with FAS. He is also OCD, ADHD, ODD, Mild autistic,( he rocks and bangs at times. He is very bright, smart, but will repeat what you say over and over, and rages when anything bothers him to the point of looking like he is having a seizure.
E set tried to set the kitchen on fire 4 times at 3 and slashed up the house and furniture with knives. he will poke holes in the walls, he has emotional mood swings. J is also anorexic, I have to fight with him every day to eat,he is almost 6 now and weighs 35 pounds. Both E, and J, will only eat certain kinds of foods over and over again, will not try anything new, taste and texture are a big part of their eating. E and J have to have food cut a certain way, they have to have food placed just a certain way. Certain clothing like underwear and socks bother them, sensory issues. They have trouble sleeping, E is up to 1 or 2 in the morning but the alternative is to keep both of them doped up with Abilify, Seroquel and Respiridol, J takes Prozac. We finally had to put them on Tradezone for sleep at nite. I homeschool now because I am a Mennonite , 2 because, they will tell people out of the ordinary storys its not lying its called confabulation. Another thing, These kids, have no fear, of strangers or of situations, E and J both will wander off out of the house at will, unless i use some kind of protection on the doors and windows,, I sleep with a hammer next to my bed at all times because in case of emergency i might have to break a window.
I am sorry that this is so long, but if ONE GIRL, ONE TEEN, OR Woman sees this and sees the complications of what drinking and drugging will do to their child, and stops, or never does anything while pregnant it will be a godsend.
By the way, A's still in the drugs and alchol, has been married 5 times and is now married to her other mothers ex husband, her preffered method of birth control has been abortion, L is a prostitute, escort, neither of them want to change their lives, L greatfully after having 4 children in 3 years, J was her last. Her other 3 are with the fathers. I am now almost 50 years old. I pray everyday that I can make a change in these boys life.
I also hope this gives you a birds eye view of someone who is raising children who are victims of Drug and Alchol abuse. Many Blessings to you Sir,, ty, Sincerely Benita

hc said...

Sounds terrible situation Benita - I hope drug users read this story.