Babies born addicted to drugs up 42 per cent at St. Boniface Hospital

St. Boniface hospital in Winnipeg is seeing a 42 per cent increase in babies born with symptoms of drug addiction and withdrawal, also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, which has the Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU) sounding the alarm.

MNU president Darlene Jackson is linking the problem to the ongoing meth crisis.

“It just makes sense that the number of babies that are born to moms that have addictions is increasing with the increase in the meth problem,” she said.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) said the rise at St. Boniface is partly due to some cases being sent over from Health Sciences Centre.

“The WRHA has not seen a 42 per cent increase in babies being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. System-wide, there was an eight per cent increase (74 cases to 80) from 2016 to 2017, and a four per cent increase (77 to 80) from 2014 to 2017.

“The figure noted in the document cited by MNU was for St. Boniface Hospital only.”

Regardless, the rise is putting a strain on the hospitals neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), as babies suffering from withdrawal require more treatment and for longer periods of time, according to Jackson.

She is calling on the WRHA to increase funding.

“It’s concerning because it definitely puts more work load out there in a system, in NICU, that’s already struggling with as nursing shortage,” she said.

Jackson also noted a lack of public awareness.

“We’ve done really well with public education and awareness on alcohol and pregnancy and I think we need to talk about that with drug use as well,” she said.

The WRHA said it already assesses mothers for substance abuse and provides appropriate referrals.

“While we take our role seriously as a key player in educating the public about the health risks of drug use, there is no question that this is not only a health issue, but a community issue requiring a community-wide response,” a WRHA spokesperson said to Global News in an emailed statement.

As for NICU nursing resources, the WRHA said it addressed the issue when it announced $3.2 million in funding which will be used to hire 30 new NICU-trained nurses and creating regular capacity for an additional 11 beds for babies.

“This new funding will allow us to better plan for the demand by having them covered by scheduled staff 24/7, rather than using overtime to meet peak demand.”

The WRHA does not keep stats specific to meth use among mothers. It track babies with NAS but not the substance used by the mother.

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