Figures show two babies a week born addicted to drugs in Ireland
Up to 100 babies are born addicted to drugs like methadone, heroin and cocaine in Ireland every year.
Statistics from the HSE show 88 children were born in 2013 to Irish mothers with withdrawals from drugs at the time of birth– a 25 per cent increase on the previous year – while there was a high of 106 babies born with their mum’s addiction in 2009.
The figures mean that on average more than one baby in Ireland is born every week with their mother’s habit, which was passed on while the baby was still in the womb.
The distressed babies – who need specialist care to cope with symptoms like fever, severe vomiting and seizures within the first few hours of life – are given morphine and other drugs to help to wean them off hard drugs.
Consultant Paediatrician Dr Michael O’Grady, who has carried out research on neo-natal withdrawal symptoms on Irish babies, said it is a very tough start in life.
“It can be terrible. They are often very shaky and startle easily. They feed poorly, they can have sniffles, fever, seizures,” he said
“If they have had a steady supply of a particular agent throughout the pregnancy they can be very, very unsettled. They often don’t sleep well.
“When you try to give them a bottle they act like they are starving, but their suck is so erratic that they often can’t feed particularly well.
“They often struggle to put on weight as they are moving and shaking all the time so they need to be treated for their withdrawal and put on special infant formulas to try and get them to gain weight.”
In severe cases, he said the babies can end up in treatment for up to three to four months being weaned off the hard drugs.
Tony Geoghegan, chief executive of Merchant’s Quay in Ireland, which helps people struggling with addiction, said there is an estimated 3,000 Irish women in methadone treatment who are mostly of child-bearing age.
“Women who are pregnant are always prioritised on to treatment because it is safer for the mother and for the unborn that the mother is on methadone rather than on illicit street drugs,” he said.
“They are very reluctant to attempt detox at any stage during the pregnancy for fear that it might impact on the baby.
Dr O’Grady said social services make the decision about whether the baby goes home to its mother after treatment.
He said: “Social services do an assessment on it and some of the babies do go to their birth family and some do go to foster care.
“These kids can get developmental problems. What is recognised as well is that when they grow up they are much more likely to be addicted themselves.”
Dr O’Grady added that it is hard to see how the numbers of babies born addicted to drugs can be reduced.
“The idea is the mothers go on methadone and this will wean them off heroin. But we certainly would have seen mums who would have had a few different babies going through the unit with these types of withdrawal symptoms.
“It is a societal issue. It needs to be tackled in the community to address the problems that result in drug use in women of a child-bearing age.”