Number of babies born in withdrawal a nationwide issue

New figures obtained by the Irish Examiner show the 'hidden' crisis is apparent in all parts of the country over the past five years.

Number of babies born in withdrawal a nationwide issue

The number of babies born in withdrawal from drug or alcohol addiction is worrying high countrywide, despite consistent claims that the issue is a Dublin-only matter.

New figures obtained by the Irish Examiner show the 'hidden' crisis is apparent in all parts of the country over the past five years.

HSE records revealed yesterday under the Freedom of Information Act confirmed that 485 babies were born affected by drugs or alcohol between 2014 and 2017 as their mothers were continuing to use drugs, or were drinking heavily, while pregnant.

And a further breakdown of the statistics indicate the problem is evident across the country, with a limited regional breakdown showing:

  • 72 Dublin hospital and 74 non-Dublin hospital cases occurred, respectively, in 2014
  • 62 and 51, respectively, in 2015
  • 51 and 68, respectively, in 2016
  • 46 and 61, respectively, in 2017

Asked about the scale of the problem, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it is important to remember the number of babies born with addictions is small when compared to 50,000 births in Ireland yearly.

However, he noted that one addiction-related birth, every three days, is "not a small number" and confirmed doctors face real difficulties in how to treat babies in such situations.

The most important thing, obviously, is to identify the fact the mother is addicted in the first instance so she can receive the treatment she needs prior to the baby being born and also thereafter.

"We do have facilities to provide residential care for pregnant women who suffer from addiction. But it can be very difficult.

"Having worked in maternity hospitals and obstetrics," he said, "often women who face addiction don't turn up for their ante-natal appointments and often present very late in pregnancy. So it's a tough job for the professionals to get right."

Holles Street consultant neonatologist Dr Claudine Vavasseur said babies born addicted often have smaller heads, difficult growth and that "just as you see people with addictions, babies go through that withdrawal also".

Giving examples of babies born with alcohol, cocaine, heroin and methadone withdrawal symptoms, Dr Vavasseur said they either have to be treated with other drugs or placed in "a darkened environment with minimal handling". She RTÉ Radio News at One: "Their stay with us can be quite long, and they can be difficult babies."

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