Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs in the world with even one dose leading to addiction. The numbers of Irish heroin addicts have sharply increased with 650 new injectors being listed at the needle exchange services in Dublin this year. Yet the scariest fact of all? Figures released by the HSE under the information of freedom act to the Journal.ie in 2016 show that 92 babies were born with drugs in their system, and since 2012, 501 babies were released from Irish hospitals with drug addiction withdrawal symptoms as a result of their mothers use of drugs during pregnancy.
A national epidemic that is seeing at least one hundred babies born addicted every year, is gaining momentum through our communities. This is a notable concern as addictions in childhood can lead to physical and emotional harm in future years. This article aims to highlight the very reasons for this spike in childhood addiction and the steps needed to stop it.
Heroin is a highly addictive drug and the effects it has on people can be deadly. However, the effects on babies and a developing foetus are even more harmful. Heroin can lead to several health issues related to pregnancy, including problems with the placenta, increased risk of premature birth and low birth weight. Epidemiological studies show that only a small percentage of babies born to heroin addicted mothers still live with their mothers, as the environment is unsafe for the child. Due to this one of the only options is going down the path of adoption and fostering which can also be psychologically damaging for the child. Such traumatic upbringings are becoming too common in Ireland and must be stopped.
Other heart-breaking symptoms include the child itself being born addicted to the class A drugs used by the mother, leading to the life-threatening side effects of withdrawal. According to Sandford Children’s hospital, neonatal abstinence syndrome is a term for the problems baby’s experience when withdrawing from exposure to drugs. Some symptoms include seizures, tremors, and hyperactive reflexes. These symptoms can occur as early as 24 hours after birth and can sometimes last up to 7/8 months. To treat the severe withdrawal medication is needed and the treatment drug is usually similar type to the substance the baby is withdrawing from, a highly traumatic experience for any child. A horror that should be grabbing the attention of our governments and inspiring change and reform.
In an article published by Merchants Quay in 2016, a charity devoted to the homelessness and drug crisis in Ireland, it is clear to see the urgent funding that is needed in drug rehabilitation in this country and is not being provided. They stated that demands for the services including drug substitution treatment has soared by 17 percent in the first half of the year, compared to the same period in 200. Last year more than 2,000 individuals used the needle exchange service in Merchants Quay, 421 of them being first time users, a statistic showing the urgency of this crisis and the growing need for support from government policy. With continual social welfare cuts in recent years, Citywide Drugs crisis campaign report that drug rehabilitation programmes are being targeted, with women and lone parents being the most vulnerable. This lack of funding can only mean a direct link to the surge in childhood addictions in Ireland as parents and women suffering from substance abuse are not receiving the care they need.
The sad truth of this horrible situation is the voiceless victims of the process and their inability to choose their destinies. As Wilkinson states in his book ‘The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger’ low social status is unquestionably linked with the use of illegal drugs. These inequalities are rising in our capital city and providing an opportunity for drug use to soar. Adults falling into the trap are in turn creating a greater risk for their children, a sorry fact that sees babies born into a life they did not choose.
In an article published by the Irish Times entitled ‘In Dublin’s inner-city people do not choose to become addicts’ it is clear to this unequal society we live in and how that hurts the lives of so many. It is clear from these sources that before we tackle the problem of childhood addiction we must tackle the raging inequalities in our cities first.
Yet solving this national problem isn’t that easy of a task. There is debate going on as to whether supervised injection rooms should be provided for heroin and other opiate addicts in Dublin. There is concern that these units may increase the level of drug use, however, the Irish Times state that the most convincing and important fact is that not a single death has occurred in these, medically-supervised facilities. Perhaps it is time for policy change in this country and for addiction to be treated as a national health issue and not something to be ignored.
One solution that has worked with many other countries is decriminalising all types of drugs. Portugal for example decriminalised the possession of all drugs, everything from marijuana to heroin and has seen a decrease in the amount of drug use. It was estimated that 100,000 were heroin users by the late 1990s but in the past few years 50,000 of them are taking treatment for their problem. According to a report from Vice News, at least 25 countries have introduced some form of decriminalisation, Portugal’s holistic model and its use of dissuasion panels sets it apart. This could be the solution that Ireland needs to help stop the rapid increase in drug use and to help the children who could be affected by this epidemic.
It is clear to see that Ireland is facing a widespread emergency that is affecting the lives of the most vulnerable in our society. Children should not be facing such traumatic experiences in the early years of their lives. The approach to drug addiction is clearly not working in this country and it is time for change. If we care about this country, the people that live in it and the future lives to come we must tackle this inequality and put a stop to mere babies being born addicted.
Amber Torpey, Akef Odwan, Naoise Alvey, Denis Bolger Aboud, and Tony Flanagan.