An average of 20 drug addicts become pregnant every year in Malta and are prescribed the opioid substitute methadone during pregnancy, Agenzija Sedqa clinical director and acting operations director Dr George Grech told The Malta Independent on Sunday.
Dr Grech chaired a conference on addictions on Thursday and Friday at the Dolmen Resort Hotel and Spa in Qawra, at which a number of local and foreign professionals in the medical field shared their research. The conference was organised by the Maltese Association of Psychiatric Nurses.
Dr Grech was commenting on the local situation after a presentation by Dr Kim Wolff from King’s College University in London who spoke about methadone and pregnancy. She referred to evidence suggesting that, if maintained on methadone during pregnancy, opioid-dependent women tend to have a longer gestation period. They are also likely to receive more antenatal care – an important indicator of the outcome for both mother and child.
Questioned on the local scenario, Dr Grech said the emphasis is on encouraging pregnant addicts to take the best antenatal care possible. They also guide them not to neglect their children, while ensuring they do not get labelled.
The ongoing work of health care professionals in the sector focuses on assessing the best forms of assistance for these women. Although local research is lacking, Maltese professionals follow research from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).
Dr Wolff described how the babies of mothers using methadone often exhibit opioid withdrawal symptoms some days after birth. These may include tremor, a high-pitched cry, sleep disturbance, muscle tone and respiratory problems and gastrointestinal tract problems, including projectile vomiting, diarrhoea and feeding difficulties.
There is to date no clear evidence to establish a relationship between the amount of methadone used by the mother and the severity of withdrawal symptoms in the newborn.
It is estimated that around one in every 1,000 women in the UK is dependent on opioids, the majority of them of childbearing age. A study in London on 40 opioid addicts whose average age was 34 showed a total of 113 pregnancies – an average of 3.7 pregnancies per woman, which is far higher than the national average.
She went on to point out that of the 85 children born, only 11 lived with their mothers. Another 24 were living with a relative, 28 were in foster care and 22 had been adopted. Only eight of the 40 women lived with one of their children.
Dr Wolff pointed out that, judging by discussions she had had with Maltese healthcare professionals, the local situation was similar to that in the UK.
by Annaliza Borg
November 27, 2010
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Malta: Average of 20 heroin addicts pregnant every year