Pubdate: Sun, 04 Mar 2001
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Contact:  PO Box 496, London E1 9XW, United Kingdom
Fax: +44-(0)20-782 5658
Author: Sue Leonard, Scottish Health Correspondent


DOCTORS should break patient confidentiality to inform local authorities of 
all drug addicts with school-age children, according to one of Scotland's 
leading drugs experts.

Professor Neil McKeganey, head of Glasgow University's Centre for Drug 
Misuse Research, said family doctors needed to share information in the 
interests of children's welfare. He made his comments as he revealed 
details of the first comprehensive study into the impact of drug abuse on 
the children of addicts.

McKeganey estimates that 20,000 children in Scotland have a parent who is 
an addict. He said that the doctor-patient relationship may even be making 
the lives of the children more difficult.

Schools often do not know, and are not routinely told, that pupils are 
living with a parent who is dependent on drugs. Doctors, drug agency 
workers and social workers should ensure that information is shared, said 

In the study, parents spoke of how their drug use had nearly ruined their 
children's lives. They described stealing their children's clothes to 
support their habit and failing to protect them from the physical abuse of 
partners. Others took their children with them to late-night meetings with 
drug dealers or on shoplifting expeditions during the day.

"Many more people have to be looking out for these children, given that 
their parents for so much of the time are unable to do that," said McKeganey.

"I feel it is something that schools should know about because it can have 
a very serious impact. On the basis of the Glasgow research, we need to be 
concerned for the welfare of children living in addict households.

"Drug services and primary care doctors who were treating addicts they knew 
to be parents should be alerting other agencies that were likely to be in 
contact with the children so as to tell them about the circumstances of the 
child's parents, he said.

"The risks to children are potentially so great that the principle of 
confidentiality is not as important as the principle of the welfare of 
these children."

Guidance from the General Medical Council to doctors would make this 
difficult. Under the rules at present there would have to be a high risk to 
the children before it would be permissible to breach patient/doctor 

A spokesman for the British Medical Association in Scotland said: "Our 
understanding of the GMC guidance is that a simple awareness of a drug 
problem would not justify breaching confidentiality."

However, Ian White, head teacher of Govan High school in Glasgow, said he 
supported the move. "It would be helpful for us to get more information," 
he said.

The three-year study involved 70 people who had overcome addiction to 
illegal drugs.

It revealed that recognition of the effects of their drug abuse on their 
children was the single most powerful factor in persuading them to give up.
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