SNP hands out baby box 'treats' to all but money would be better spent helping hundreds born addicted to drugs – Susan Dalgety

Edinburgh is a rich city. Lothian, a rich region.

Lothian accounted for more than half of the babies born addicted to drugs in Scotland (Picture: Didier Pallages/AFP via Getty Images)
Lothian accounted for more than half of the babies born addicted to drugs in Scotland (Picture: Didier Pallages/AFP via Getty Images)

This is Scotland’s powerhouse, one of the most prosperous parts of the country, according to the Fraser of Allender Institute, a respected economic think tank.

Yet since 2017, more than half the babies born in Scotland with neonatal abstinence syndrome drew their first breath here. Figures just revealed show that 434 new born infants in Lothian were addicted to drugs, out of a nationwide total of 856.

Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, whose party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, uncovered the figures using Freedom of Information, described the statistics as “utterly heart-breaking”.

“It is hard to think of a worse possible start in life for a new-born baby to have to endure,” he added.

Thanks to the care of our dedicated NHS staff, most of the 474 babies will quickly recover from the initial symptoms of their “addiction”, which include uncontrollable trembling, blotchy skin and high-pitch crying.

But some will suffer long-lasting effects such as impaired growth and altered development, and for many the adverse impact will endure into adulthood.

Babies born with a proverbial coke spoon in their mouth are at a significant disadvantage from day one. Parents with a drug addiction often struggle to provide their children with a stable home life.

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Chaos is the order of the day, and as author and social commentator Darren McGarvey pointed out on Twitter, the long-term impact of these horrific figures can be seen in much of Scotland’s young offender population.

So what can be done? Cole-Hamilton argues convincingly that drug misuse should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice matter, and has called for increased investment in local rehabilitation and treatment services. And not just to tackle the horror of babies being born addicted to drugs.

Scotland has the highest rate of drug deaths in Europe, with 1,339 of our citizens dying in 2020 – 92 in Edinburgh alone.

Five years ago, Edinburgh Alcohol & Drug Partnership, like all similar organisations across Scotland, saw their funding cut by more than 20 per cent. A year later, in 2017, the Scottish government introduced the baby box scheme, at a cost of nearly £9 million a year.

Every new-born baby in Scotland now receives a cardboard box which, according to, is “jam-packed full of all the essentials needed to help new parents welcome their bundle of joy into the world – along with a few little extra treats".

These treats include a poem by Jackie Kay, titled, Welcome Wee One. “Let your life have luck, health, charm,” it says.

I am sure that most new parents, while delighted with the free baby blanket and bibs in their baby box, would not complain if that money was spent instead on protecting vulnerable infants and their mothers.

The majority of babies lucky enough to be born in Lothian region this year will have good health and can look forward to a happy, productive life.

But for some, the odds will be stacked against them from the start. Surely limited public resources should be spent protecting the most vulnerable pregnant women, not on treats for everyone.

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