More than 850 babies born addicted to drugs in last four years

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader describes figures as 'heartbreaking' and calls on Scottish Government to act.

More than 850 babies born addicted to drugs in last four years iStock
More than 850 babies born dependent on substances since 2017 in Scotland.

More than 850 babies addicted to drugs have been born in Scotland over the last four years.

A total of 173 such births were recorded in both 2019-20 and 2020-21, down from 205 in 2018-19 and 249 in 2017-18, according to data compiled by the Scottish Liberal Democrats using data obtained under Freedom of Information laws.

In addition to this, a further 52 babies were born addicted in the first part of 2021-22.

The largest number of births where infants were suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) was in NHS Lothian, where there were 434 such cases, followed by 143 in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and 118 in NHS Grampian.

NAS is when a baby shows signs of drug addiction as a result of their mother taking legal or illegal drugs during pregnancy.

NHS Shetland and NHS Fife both failed to provide figures on such births – which can result in infants suffering from uncontrollable trembling and hyperactivity as well as having blotchy skin and high-pitch crying.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton described the figures as being “utterly heartbreaking”, adding: “It is hard to think of a worse possible start in life for a newborn baby to have to endure.”

He criticised SNP ministers, saying: “In 2016, the Scottish Government slashed funding to drug and alcohol partnerships by more than 20%.

“Valuable local facilities shut their doors and expertise was lost which has proved hard to replace.

“Scotland now has its highest-ever number of drug-related deaths. The Scottish Government has belatedly begun to repair that damage but there is so much more to do.

“It is time for radical action, not just to help people struggling with drug misuse today but for future generations too.

“That means investing in local services which are best placed to intervene to stop lives from being lost and new lives starting dependent on substances.”

Figures published by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) last year revealed there were 1339 drug-related deaths in 2020 – a 5% increase on the previous year’s statistics and the largest number since records began in 1996.

Cole-Hamilton continued: “Drug misuse should always be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice matter. Anything else will condemn many more children to be born into these awful circumstances.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Increasing investment in local services and providing support to women and families are central to the public health approach being taken in Scotland through our national mission to tackle the drug deaths emergency.

“The national mission is backed up with an additional £250m to improve and increase access to treatment and recovery services for people affected by problem drug use.

“This includes direct funding of £3m per year to support families as well as £3.5m additional funding for services to provide support through the Whole Family Framework launched in December 2021.”

“This Government has also agreed in principle to fund a national specialist residential family service which will be run by the charity and housing association, Phoenix Futures, and based in Saltcoats, North Ayrshire, to support single parents or couples along with their children. The service will also support women through their pregnancy and into motherhood.”