Nfld. & Labrador

Growing number of babies exposed to drugs during pregnancy

See what the numbers tell about how many N.L. women admit using cocaine, heroin and other drugs while pregnant and how that affects their babies.

8 newborns in N.L. had to be given morphine in 2017 to wean them off drugs

The number of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome babies treated with morphine has increased from two in 2012 to eight in 2017. (

The number of babies exposed to illicit drugs during pregnancy in Newfoundland and Labrador – who required admission to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for withdrawl treatment – nearly tripled over the past five years, increasing from 11 infants in 2012 to 29 newborns in 2017.

Provincial statistics show the number of newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome, who need to be weened off drug dependencies with morphine, has also grown.

Two babies needed that treatment in 2012. Health officials say eight infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome required morphine in 2017.

Drugs during pregnancy

The number of mothers in this province who've used drugs while pregnant has hovered around 2 percent for each of the past three years, based on self-reported data collected through the provincial health-care system.

About 4,500 babies are born in Newfoundland and Labrador annually, which means last year about 90 mothers self-reported using drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, heroin, solvents and methadone while they were pregnant.

The number of babies who test positive for illicit drugs at birth is lower than the number of mothers who self reported drug use because in some cases the use may have been earlier in the pregnancy, so the drugs would no longer show up in the newborn's system.

These numbers come from the Newfoundland and Labrador Prenatal Record, Live Birth Notification form, and health care record of every mother and baby born in the province that received care from a facility within a regional health authority.

Eastern Health told CBC News that maternal alcohol use, tobacco smoking and illicit substance use information is captured during the first, second or third trimester through self-reported information.

Growing problem across Canada

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) says 1,846 babies were admitted to Canadian hospitals between April 2016 and March 31, 2017 after their mothers used opioids during pregnancy.

This total doesn't include Quebec, which keeps its own numbers.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction says drug exposure can affect the earliest stages of development. It also can have longer-term harmful effects that carry into early childhood and beyond.