Pubdate: Fri, 23 Nov 2001
Source: Australian Associated Press (Australia Wire)
Copyright: 2001 Australian Associated Press
Author: Rada Rouse, National Medical Correspondent


Narcotics abuse among pregnant women in the northern rivers region of
NSW results in a high rate of newborns suffering withdrawal and
stillbirths, a study has shown.

Pediatricians who conducted the survey at Lismore Base Hospital also
found that nearly 90 per cent of the drug-taking mothers tested
positive for hepatitis C.

Dr Christopher Ingall and registrar Dr Rebecca Richardson warned that
more than half of these women were missing out on antenatal care and
their babies had multiple problems including prematurity and growth

The incidence of substance abuse among pregnant women in the region
was ten times higher than the latest available figures for
metropolitan areas of Australia, recorded in the early 1980s.

While the rate of stillbirths for the northern rivers region generally
was 0.6 per cent, the rate for drug-abusing women was four per cent,
the study found.

Low birth weight and premature birth rates generally hovered around
five per cent, but the rate for babies of addicted mothers in Lismore
was about 25 per cent.

The study found that all of the drug-dependent women were smokers and
one-third of them had a mental health disorder.

Pediatrician Dr Ian Lennon said the hospital was responding to the
survey by establishing a multi-disciplinary antenatal team including
obstetricians and social workers.

It would address housing as well as health needs, he

"A pilot study is being conducted right now to establish the needs of
drug-dependent women," Dr Lennon told AAP.

"The hospital regards it as an urgent issue."

The study of 6,800 births over five years looked at 49 women
identified as substance abusers, excluding those who use marijuana
and/or alcohol only.

Thirty-seven mothers were prescribed methadone, but 14 of them also
continued to use heroin.

Eleven injected heroin only, one woman injected amphetamines only, and
many of them also used marijuana, benzodiazepines or rohypnol.

The study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of
Obstetrics and Gynaecology, revealed that northern rivers babies
exposed to drugs in the womb ended up much sicker than their
counterparts in metropolitan areas.

Seventy per cent of substance-exposed infants born in Lismore hospital
suffered neonatal withdrawal syndrome compared to 30 per cent in
metropolitan areas.

The pediatricians said the study was the first in Australia to
evaluate substance abuse among pregnant women in non-metropolitan,
regional Australia.

"Regional areas struggle with social, economic and demographic
changes, rural health workforce shortages and problems of inadequate
access to services," they said.

"The added burden of substance abuse on these communities can be
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