New Brunswick

Some N.B. babies being born with syndrome often linked to opioid exposure

Front-line workers who took part in a provincial symposium on harm reduction yesterday say the opioid crisis that has been moving from west to east in the last several years has definitely arrived in New Brunswick. They heard about a few alarming trends.

Front-line workers share latest research at harm reduction symposium

This Ontario baby diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome, was doing well after treatment. His mother had been using opioids and got into a methadone program. (CBC)

Front-line workers who took part in a provincial symposium on harm reduction yesterday say the opioid crisis that has been moving from west to east in the last several years has definitely arrived in New Brunswick.

The names of more than 50 people who have died of opioid overdoses were read aloud during the online video conference.

Julie Dingwell, one of the organizers, said participants had been asked to submit the names.

Some may have been from outside the province, but Dingwell said New Brunswick probably has "very close to that" many deaths on its own.

Meanwhile, the conference also heard that more New Brunswick babies are being born with an exposure to opioids.

A newly released national study by researchers from Queen's University found 9.7 in every 1,000 babies born in the province in 2014 had neonatal abstinence syndrome, a collection of symptoms usually caused by prenatal opioid exposure.

With about 6,500 annual births, that means it affected 63 babies.

Saint John pediatrician Sarah Gander says opioid addictions can have a major impact on child health. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

Dr. Sarah Gander, a Saint John pediatrician who moderated the symposium, believes that rate has increased in the six years since the data was collected and would be even higher today.

Babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome have to stay in hospital an extra two weeks, on average, said Gander.

That's very expensive, she said, and it also has long-term effects on the child, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, learning difficulties and medical problems.

"Separation and adverse childhood experiences and the trauma of the early years is really where we need to go upstream to try to prevent the downstream pieces," she said.

Gander says the pandemic is compounding addiction issues as people face increased stress due to precarious employment and housing, increased isolation and disrupted support services.

She applauded the province's new mental health and addiction plan, which includes overdose prevention sites, walk-in mental health clinics, supported housing and treatment opportunities for youth.

"There's no time to waste," she said.

Dingwell agreed.

"I felt that minister Shephard got where we were at and that we're going to move forward. I'm crossing my fingers that we're going to do that really soon."

"I'm hopeful."

Executive director Julie Dingwell of Avenue B Harm Reduction says there's a big increase in demand for clean drug supplies. (CBC)

Dingwell is executive director of Avenue B, a harm reduction group in Saint John.

It provides services to about 950 individuals, she said.

Last year they distributed a record number of clean needles, in excess of 400,000.

The demand for needles has been increasing significantly in the last several years, said Dingwell, as has demand for safer inhalation kits and crystal meth pipes.

With files from Information Morning Saint John

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