Drug misuse up for mums-to-be

The number of future mums taking drugs has risen 40 per cent. Picture: Rob McDougall
The number of future mums taking drugs has risen 40 per cent. Picture: Rob McDougall
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SOARING numbers of mums-to-be in the Lothians have been misusing drugs.

More than 1300 pregnant women admitted to health professionals they had taken substances ranging from heroin to cannabis in the three years up to 2012.

The statistics – compiled by NHS Lothian – are higher than anywhere else in Scotland and have gone up by nearly 40 per cent from the previous reading in 2010. It means that about 49 pregnancies in every 1000 in the Lothians are to women who admit to misusing drugs.

Charities and politicians called the rise “concerning”, but NHS Lothian said it was primarily due to more women being open about their drug use and better record-keeping.

A former drugs tsar said part of the growth could be due to women who used drugs “socially”, with many unaware they were pregnant at the time. Others might turn to drugs at times of stress.

He said: “They might not have a partner or they’re insecure at work or home, then it can be a very stressful time. If someone usually resorts to drink or drugs when under pressure, using it as a crutch, then there’s that temptation to use it when pregnant as well.”

The most recent figures compare with 981 for the same period to 2011 and just 365 between 2005 and 2008..

It is understood the majority of the people listed are current drug users.

The trend contrasts with a general decrease in drug taking with the number of new drug users reported to NHS Lothian in 2010-11 at 1804, down from 2233 the previous year.

Experts stressed the importance of distinguishing between women using drugs during pregnancy and children being born drug-dependent.

A child suffering withdrawal can experience seizures, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, sweating and delayed visual development. If left untreated, there is a one-in-five risk the baby will die.

Last year, 31 babies were born in the region suffering from neonatal withdrawal symptoms due to their mothers’ addictions.

Professor Ben Stenson, consultant neonatologist at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, said a small number may require medicine to alleviate symptoms, but it was not common.

He said: “We admit 20 to 30 babies per year to the neonatal unit who are showing signs of this condition and the numbers have remained stable over the last five years. Some babies may also present to other services after discharge from hospital after birth because it can come on quite gradually.

“Most of the infants do not become severely ill.”

Sarah Boyack, Labour Lothian MSP, said: “Over recent years, welcome improvements have been made to recording of drug misuse which should account for at least some of this increase.

“However, I am concerned that the rate in Lothian is so much higher than elsewhere. I have written to NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government to ask what assessment has been carried out and what action is being taken to tackle this issue.”


Christine McCauley, of Addaction Scotland, a charity working with pregnant women affected by substance misuse, said: “There can often be a fear and a stigma around women who are using drugs during pregnancy because they fear as soon as they say they are on methadone, or another drug, social services will step in and take their children away.

“We have seen positive outcomes – at the start of some relationships where you think it is highly unlikely they will have this baby home, we have put in a lot of intensive support.

“But sometimes we have to admit that it’s not the best outcome for the baby to be with the mum so we try to help her through the process and understand why.”