Ministers criticised over number of babies born with substance dependencies

The Scottish Liberal Democrats want drug and alcohol services for women at risk of substance misuse during pregnancy improved.

Ministers criticised over number of babies born with substance dependencies iStock

Ministers have been told to “shoulder blame” after figures revealed almost 1,400 babies have been born dependent on substances since 2017.

Freedom of information data obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats showed the number of newborns diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) increased to 195 in 2023/24, from 186 in 2022/23.

Figures have fluctuated since 2017/18 when they reached a high of 243, with 1,363 babies diagnosed in total since then.

The syndrome occurs when babies have been exposed to drugs such as opioids while in the womb, with withdrawal symptoms possible after birth.

Symptoms include uncontrollable trembling, hyperactivity, blotchy skin and high-pitched crying.

In the seven-year period, NHS Lothian recorded the most cases with 692, followed by Grampian’s 209 and Greater Glasgow and Clyde with 201.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the Scottish Government must commit to improving drug and alcohol services amid the figures.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “Drug deaths make the headlines but, in a host of other ways, drug misuse can make lives a misery.

“There is perhaps no more awful start for a newborn baby than to be born dependent on drugs.

“The Scottish Government need to shoulder some of the blame. The cuts they delivered meant drug and alcohol services closed their doors and valuable expertise was lost.

“I don’t want to see future generations still struggling with drug misuse. That’s why Scottish Liberal Democrats are committed to investing in local services which are best-placed to intervene to stop lives being lost and new lives starting dependent on substances.”

Drug policy minister Elena Whitham said: “No newborn baby should be born dependent on substances and mothers should be able to get the help they need, free from judgment and stigma.

“We are increasing investment in local services and providing support to women and families as part of our national mission, backed by £250 million, to tackle the drug deaths emergency.

“Funding for drug policy has increased by 67% in real terms from 2014/15 to 2023/24, according to Audit Scotland figures published last year.

“This includes direct funding of £3 million per year to support families as well as £3.5 million additional funding for services to provide support through the whole families framework launched in December 2021.

“We are also committed to preventing the harm caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy, of which there is no safe level, and to supporting those impacted by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).”

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