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Keywords:

  • drug exposure;
  • neonatal abstinence syndrome;
  • perinatal outcome;
  • pregnancy

Aims:  To ascertain the characteristics and short-term outcomes of infants born to illicit drug-using mothers in public hospitals in the state of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory during 2004.

Methods:  Patients were identified retrospectively by hospital records searches using ICD-10 morbidity codes and records of local Drug and Alcohol Services. Records were reviewed on site. All public hospitals (n= 101) with obstetric services were included.

Results:  A total of 879 (1.4%, 95% confidence interval: 1.3–1.5%) drug-using mothers were identified from 62 682 confinements. Opiates (46.8%), amphetamines (23.0%) and polydrug (16.4%) exposure were most common. There were eight stillbirths. Among these 871 infants, prematurity (23.6%) and low birthweight (27.1%) were common and 51.1% were admitted to nurseries for further care. Two infants died. Major congenital anomalies were detected in 15 infants. Pharmacological treatment for withdrawal was required for 202 (23.2%), and 143 (70.8%) infants were discharged home on medication. Infants who completed inpatient pharmacological treatment were hospitalised longer (median 26.0 vs. 12.0 days) and were more likely to be premature (37.3 vs. 14.0%). Child-at-risk notifications affected 40.6% of the infants, and 7.6% were fostered prior to discharge. A total of 333 (38.2%) infants were breastfed at discharge.

Conclusions:  Our regional study highlights a substantial prevalence of drug use in pregnancy with considerable adverse perinatal and hospital outcomes in infants born to these mothers. Coordinated health care and resources are needed to support these mother–infant pairs because of their social, medical and mental-health issues.