Tragedy of Scots babies beginning their lives in rehab

More than 700 babies who began their lives dependent on drugs have been born in Scotland in the last five years, new data has shown.

The symptoms of NAS include uncontrollable trembling, hyperactivity, blotchy skin and high-pitch crying. Picture: Gett
The symptoms of NAS include uncontrollable trembling, hyperactivity, blotchy skin and high-pitch crying. Picture: Gett

The prevalence of so-called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), whereby a mother’s use of illegal or legal drugs during pregnancy affects the baby in the womb, was revealed by Freedom of Information legislation.

The Scottish Government last night described the statistics as “troubling” and opposition politicians called for more money to be spent on drug and alcohol services.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats asked Scotland’s 15 health boards how many babies had been born showing signs of addiction as a result of their mothers’ drug use.

Answers from 14 – Dumfries and Galloway did not hold the information – showed that 729 babies had been born with NAS since 2012-13.


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NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde recorded the most youngsters with NAS with 344 being born over the period in question. NHS Lothian recorded 112 and NHS Tayside, NHS Fife and NHS Forth Valley had 55, 45 and 42 respectively.

According to the FoI responses, the drugs involved included methadone, cannabis, amphetamine, heroin and cocaine.

The symptoms of NAS, caused by almost every drug passing from the mother to her foetus’s blood stream during pregnancy, include uncontrollable trembling, hyperactivity, blotchy skin and high-pitch crying.

Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “There figures are utterly heart-breaking. To think that a new- born baby is having to start life in rehab is beyond imagination. What makes it worse is that each case is a tragedy that could have been avoided.


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“The Scottish Government has slashed funding to drug and alcohol partnerships by more than 20 per cent. Valuable local facilities have shut their doors. The number of drug-related deaths has spiralled to its highest-ever level. The argument against these cuts is even clearer now than it ever has been.

“The drug problem in Scotland needs to be tackled head-on. As today’s figures show, future generations are counting on us to act. The very same services that have been axed are the ones that are best placed to intervene and help avoid lives from being lost and new lives starting dependent on substances.

“That’s why Scottish Liberal Democrats would restore funding to drug and alcohol services, reform the failing existing drug law enforcement strategies and treat drug misuse as a health issue. This would ensure help is there for people when they need it and give more children a better start in life.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Whilst these statistics are troubling, drug use among the general population continues to fall, while drug taking levels among young people remain low. The Scottish Government has invested over £630 million to tackle problem alcohol and drug use since 2008, with the bulk of our funding, £574 million, being provided via NHS boards to alcohol and drug partnerships for investment in local prevention, treatment and recovery support services.”