Sunderland babies born addicted to heroin

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MOTHERS-TO-BE are continuing to defy warnings not to drink or take drugs during pregnancy, new figures show.

Despite repeated advice, about four per cent of Sunderland’s expectant mums having to be referred to pre-natal substance misuse services.

Today, medical experts expressed concern for the victims, the Wearside children who face a difficult life from the minute they enter the world.

Some have to be weaned off heroin, while others are born with damage to their brains and hearts.

One 24-year-old mum, who was addicted to heroin during her pregnancy, described the shame she felt at taking the drug.

“I knew what I was doing and I knew the harm it could cause,” she said. “But not even that stopped me.

“Fortunately, my baby was okay, although a few weeks premature, and we are both now drug-free. I wouldn’t want to go through that ever again. When I look back I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d lost my baby because of drugs.”

Dr Martin Weatherhead, a Southwick GP who specialises in substance misuse, said GPs across the city are aware of the problem and there is help available.

He said: “If I have a patient who is in need of help in relation to this then I would refer them onto the hospital where there is a lead midwife in this area.

“It’s not rare for GPs to come across this type of thing and it isn’t particularly exclusive to any age of woman, it really does vary.”

Evidence has shown that mums who drink heavily or binge drink during their pregnancy are at increased risk of their babies being born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

The National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Sydrome (NOFAS) warns that drinking heavily during pregnancy can destroy the brain cells of the unborn baby, as well as damaging its nervous system.

The effects can last a lifetime, and leave some children with issues including memory problems, hyperactivity, heart problems, kidney damage and sight problems.

NOFAS claims that women who drink excessively during their first trimester of pregnancy, when the facial features are forming, may result in the child having FAS face, which can include a shorter than average nose, a flat midface and a thin upper lip.

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, said: “An alcohol-free pregnancy is by far the safest option. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) advises women who are pregnant to avoid alcohol in the first three months in particular, because of the increased risk of miscarriage. However, researchers don’t know how much alcohol is safe to drink when pregnant.

“They do know that the risk of damage to your unborn baby increases the more you drink and that binge drinking is especially harmful. No alcohol is the best and safest choice.”

But it is not just alcohol that is posing a threat to the unborn children.

Mums using heroin during their pregnancy are passing the drug onto their child, getting them hooked on the Class A drug before they are born.

Once born, the children are given morphine to calm them down and gradually wean them off the drug. In effect, they are going through cold turkey within days of arriving in the world.

A spokesman for City Hospitals Sunderland (CHS) said: “We support all mums-to-be fully with clinical/medical input, advice and information, as well as trying to ensure the full impact of their lifestyles are known to them so they can change and lead healthier lives for the benefit of themselves, their children and their wider families.

“As well as support from CHS, help and advice is available throughout Sunderland and South of Tyne in primary care, with GPs, pharmacies and other local trusts and agencies.”

Twitter: @craigjourno