In the womb and hooked on tranquillisers
Sunday Express July 22, 2001
Warning over drug intake by mothers
By Lucy Johnston, Political Editor
MORE than 50,000 babies a year are at risk of brain damage or death because they are poisoned by tranquillisers in the womb, the Sunday Express can reveal.
The effects on the infants, who absorb the drugs through the placenta,. are even more devastating than those of heroin.
One mother who was prescribed Valium while pregnant told yesterday about the agony her child later suffered.
Janet Kerr, 62, said her son Charles was was born "in real distress" and doctors thought he would die.
She nursed him through but he grew up with learning difficulties that made him "burst with embarrassment." He became addicted to Valium and committed suicide -at the age of 19.
Janet, from Edinburgh, said: "At first I felt awful that I harmed my own child. Now I am angry that no one warned me."
But many mothers continue to take tranquillisers despite warnings from the Government and manufacturers. Some GPs also appear to turn a blind eye to the risks.
Research by pressure group Benzact supports fears that 50,000 babies a year are affected by tranquillisers. The organisations co-ordinator, Sue Bibby, said: "This problem is now. out of control." .
Experts believe tranquillizers could even be the cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome- cot death.
Affected babies are. said to experience horrendous withdrawal symptoms similar to the "cold turkey" suffered by drug addicts.
Research shows the drugs cause facial abnormalities including heavy eyelids and distorted proportions.
Professor Heather Ashton, of Newcastle University, said: "There is also evidence to show they contribute to unsolved medical mysteries like cot death and autism." Specialist James Robertson, who sees about 40 cases a year at Arrow Park Hospital, Merseyside, said: "You can recognise the problem from the babies distinctive high-pitched scream. You cannot console them.".
Health campaigners who want new curbs on tranquillisers including Valium, Temazepam, Mogadon and Ativan met MPs last week and are due to meet Home Secretary David Blunkett later this month.
Last year the Sunday Express revealed that millions are prescribed tranquillisers without being told of potentially catastrophic effects.
Many doctors are said not to have the skill to wean users off.
But Government drug tsar Keith Hellawell said yesterday: "We have been working with doctors to reduce the length of prescribing and the amount they prescribe."