At least 852 babies have been born addicted since April 2017 in Scotland, new figures have revealed.
The worst year since then was 2017-18 when 249 such births were recorded, then 205 in 2018-19 and 173 in both 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.
In the first part of 2021-22, a further 52 babies were born addicted, according to the figures compiled by the Scottish Liberal Democrats using data obtained under Freedom of Information.
Babies who are born addicted through exposure to certain drugs – such as heroin, codeine, cocaine, marijuana and alcohol – in the womb can suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) as they withdraw from the drugs.
Symptoms of NAS include uncontrollable trembling, hyperactivity, seizures, vomiting, fever, overactive reflexes, blotchy skin and high-pitched or too much crying.
Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the figures were “utterly heartbreaking” as he criticised the SNP-run Scottish government for slashing funding to drug and alcohol partnerships “by 20%”.
NHS Lothian had the largest number of births – 434 – where babies were suffering from NAS, followed by 143 in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and 118 in NHS Grampian.
Both NHS Scotland and NHS Fife failed to provide figures on such births.
Scotland continues to have the worst overall drug death rate in Europe.
From 2020-21, the country had a record number of drug deaths – 1,339 – and statistics from the first half of 2021-22 saw 720 people die as a result of drugs, suggesting this year’s final number could be as high as last year’s.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “It is hard to think of a worse possible start in life for a newborn baby to have to endure.”
He hit out at SNP ministers for cutting funding, saying: “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.”
He added that 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,” he said.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said investment is being increased into local services and providing support to women and families “are central to the public health approach being taken”.
She said it was a “national mission to tackle the drugs death emergency” and an additional £250m has been invested to improve and increase access to treatment and recovery services.
Some £3m goes directly to support families and £3.5m more has gone towards providing support through the Whole Family Framework initiative launched last month.
The government has agreed in principle to fund a national specialist residential family service based in North Ayrshire to support single parents or couples with their children, she added.
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