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‘Heartbreaking’ More than 800 babies in Scotland born addicted to drugs in last four years

At least 852 babies were born addicted to drugs in Scotland over the last four years, shock figures have revealed.

Politicians described the situation as “heartbreaking” while campaigners said more needed to be done to support women who become pregnant while battling substance issues.

A total of 173 babies with addictions were recorded in both 2019-20 and 2020-21 – down from 205 in 2018-19 and 249 in 2017-18.

A further 52 such births were registered in the first part of 2021-22.

But the real number could be even higher as NHS Fife – one of the country’s largest health boards – failed to provide details when asked.

Figures obtained by the Scottish Lib Dems revealed the largest number of births where infants were suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) was in NHS Lothian where there were 434 such cases.

There were 143 recorded by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and 118 in NHS Grampian.

NAS can result in infants suffering from uncontrollable trembling and hyperactivity as well as having blotchy skin and high-pitch crying.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Lib Dems leader, described the figures as being “utterly heart-breaking”.

The MSP for Edinburgh Western added: “It is hard to think of a worse possible start in life for a newborn baby to have to endure.”

Cole-Hamilton said the issue had not been helped by the SNP ministers.

He continued: “In 2016 the Scottish Government slashed funding to drug and alcohol partnerships by more than 20 per cent.

“Valuable local facilities shut their doors and expertise was lost which has proved hard to replace.”

David Liddell, CEO of Scottish Drugs Forum, told the Record that health services needed to encourage pregnant women to seek treatment if they were battling addiction issues.

“Women who use drugs need to be empowered to engage with care and support around their reproductive health,” he said.

“Frontline services need to support women and prioritise this issue.

“Having a baby and mothering a child should be a choice open to women. We must stop removing children from women’s care except as an extraordinary last resort.

“More importantly, we have to find ways to reassure women that their children will not be taken from them when they engage with services seeking help for their drug use or other issues.

“Women present to services in worse health and with more problems than men do – often because they delay asking for help out of fear of losing their children.

“Services need to be resourced to work closer with vulnerable women earlier.”

The Record has led the way in calling for a transformation in how Scotland deals with drug addiction through our Addicted campaign.

The country sees more deaths caused by illegal substances per head of population than anywhere else in Europe.

Over months, we called for the decriminalisation of personal drug use and for addiction to be treated as a public health issue.

Last year, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain QC announced people caught with a class A drug in Scotland could now be given a police warning rather than facing a possible jail sentence.

The move effectively meant decriminalisation of personal drug use and a victory for the Record’s campaigning journalism.

Annemarie Ward, CEO of the Glasgow-based Faces & Voices of Recovery charity, said the most recently available statistics estimated that around 20,000 women in Scotland were receiving some form of treatment for addiction.

“With only 139 placements available in rehab units across Scotland for women, pregnant or not, there is a shocking lack of support available for those who want to get free from their addiction,” she told the Record.

“These figures highlight yet again that the specialist care required for these babies and their mothers has never been available in the quantity we need it in – and the promised 20-place family service, which is not specifically for pregnant women, will barely scrape the surface of unmet need.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Increasing investment in local services and providing support to women and families are central to the public health approach being taken in Scotland through our national mission to tackle the drug deaths emergency.

“The national mission is backed up with an additional £250 million to improve and increase access to treatment and recovery services for people affected by problem drug use.

“This Government has also agreed in principle to fund a national specialist residential family service which will be run by the charity and housing association, Phoenix Futures, and based in Saltcoats, to support parents along with their children.”

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