Number of women abusing drugs in pregnancy doubles

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the number of mums-to-be in the Lothians who are known to be abusing drugs has almost doubled in just four years, it has been revealed.

The proportion of pregnant women in the area admitting that they misuse drugs is now the second highest in Scotland.

The rise was describing as “deeply concerning”, but NHS Lothian said it was primarily due to more women being open about their drug use and better record keeping. The statistics released by the NHS show rolling totals for three-year periods. The newest figures, for the three years to 2010, show that 545 pregnant women said they had misused drugs. That compares with 336 for the period to 2009. For the three years leading up to 2006 the figure was just 286.

The majority of the people listed are understood to be current drug users, although occasionally the statistics may also include someone who has decided to declare previous use to medical staff. They cover a wide range of drugs, but exclude alcohol.

It means that around 20 pregnancies in every thousand in the Lothians are to women who admit to misusing drugs, up from 11.5 four years ago. The only health board with a higher rate is Ayrshire and Arran, with 21.9 per thousand.

The trend contrasts with a general decrease in drug taking. The number of new drug users reported to NHS Lothian in 2010/2011 was 1804, down from 2233 the previous year.

Jim Sherval, specialist in public health for NHS Lothian, said: “The rise in the numbers of pregnancies where drug misuse has been identified is a reflection of improved intervention and recording rates, rather than an increase in incidence.

“We introduced a new health records system in 2009, which led to improvements in recording.”

The specialist PrePare team, run by NHS Lothian and the city council, also works to support mothers with problematic substance misuse, he added.Scottish Conservative health spokesman, Jackson Carlaw MSP, said he was worried by the trend. He said: “This is not only dangerous for the mother but the child as well and it is important that we alert woman to the dangers of taking these substances while pregnant.”

Jackie Mitchell, national officer of the Royal College of Midwives, agreed that recording systems were improving, and said a growing trend for midwives to see the same woman throughout her pregnancy meant there was more trust between them.

She said: “Women are perhaps more comfortable in disclosing the fact that they’re on drugs and that might be part of the reason for the increase. ”

sgyford@edinburghnews.com