Rise in babies born with drug addiction

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 November, 2007, 12:00am


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Health care workers have spoken of their frustration and distress at struggling to detoxify a growing number of drug-addicted newborn babies in Hong Kong.

Their heartbreak is compounded when they also must watch increasing numbers of drug-abusing mothers hand over their babies to foster homes or the Social Welfare Department.

At the city's biggest neonatal department, in Prince of Wales Hospital, about 50 babies are born to addicted mothers every year.

Although there are no statistics on the number of their babies which are eventually fostered out, staff say 20 to 30 per cent end up in the department's care.

Of the 50-odd babies, they say, 10 will be to mothers on 'hard' drugs like heroin and the rest on 'soft' drugs such as ice and ketamine.

Of those babies which are separated from their mothers, some will be voluntarily surrendered by mothers while others are taken away because social workers believe it is in their best interests.

The government is setting up a high-level taskforce to tackle increasing drug problems and health workers say it has come none to soon.

The head of Chinese University's paediatric department, Professor Ng Pak-cheung, said the problem of babies born addicted to drugs was getting worse and the sight of the newborns going through withdrawal symptoms was heartbreaking .

'We didn't have such a problem 10 or 15 years ago,' he said. 'Now we have these babies every month. It is very sad to see these babies...

'They cannot sleep well, they stay awake in the middle of the night and cry in high-pitched voices,' he added. 'Their small bodies tremble and they suffer from diarrhoea and vomiting. The onset starts within a few hours after they are born.'

While the mothers who abuse heroin are usually in their 30s or 40s, those on party drugs are usually younger - in their 20s.