Despite meth crisis, more Winnipeg babies are born affected by opioids, alcohol: WRHA

The number of babies born addicted to drugs in Winnipeg has been on the rise for a number of years, but despite the meth crisis, that drug doesn’t appear to be the main culprit.

Dr. Joss Reimer with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) told 680 CJOB that despite the city’s high rates of meth use, it’s not causing the same problem in this area as opioids.

“Unlike things like morphine or heroin, babies who are born to moms who are using meth don’t experience the withdrawal symptoms that we’ve seen,” said Reimer.

“So there’s not that same sort of urgent care that’s required for that specific issue.”

The number of babies born addicted to opioids in Winnipeg has risen every year since 2012.

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There were 67 Winnipeg babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome – infants experiencing withdrawal from drug dependence caused by in utero exposure – that year, rising to 82 in 2018.

Overall, the WRHA said opioid addiction affects well below one per cent of the number of children born in Winnipeg each year, which usually falls between 11-12,000.

Health officials are forecasting a very slight drop in 2019, but it’s still a concern.

“If people are pregnant and using any sort of psychoactive substance, I really encourage you to get pre-natal care especially from a trustworthy program like the Mothering Project at Mount Carmel Clinic,” she said.

Reimer said while there’s a lot of attention focused on meth and opioid use among pregnant women, the biggest danger to infants has stayed the same for ages: alcohol.

“I think when you look at all of the substances people use, alcohol is still causing the most harm in almost every category,” said Reimer.

“When we look at babies as well, alcohol is still our number one concern because the things the children experience can be life-long.

“They can experience intellectual disabilities, mental health problems…. there are lifelong concerns that we have when we talk about alcohol, because I’m actually more worried about alcohol when it comes to infants and children growing up than I am about crystal meth.”

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