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Oldham Chronicle
November 22, 2000
by Janice Barker

A 1 MILLION survey of problems caused by prescribed drugs during pregnancy is being carried out by three Government departments. It is the first comprehensive study of its kind and the outcome will be keenly watched by an Oldham woman, who believes drugs administered to her during a 38-hour labour may have harmed her child.

The woman, a former nurse and herself a victim of involuntary tranquilliser addiction since 1980, gave birth 25 years ago. And to kill the pain of labour, she says she was given Pethidine and Valium, a benzodiazepine.

At birth, her son had breathing difficulties, and abnormal behaviour as he grew up included banging his head on the floor. Now he suffers mood swings and memory loss.

His mother is in touch with campaigner Margaret Bell, of London, who has been fighting to expose the dangers of benzodiazepine drugs in pregnancy. Mrs Bell, who has written to the Government's drugs czar, Mr Keith Hellawell, to highlight the problem, says some 50,000 babies a year have been born to mothers who were regular users of prescribed benzodiazepines during pregnancy since 1960.

And in What Doctors Don't Tell You magazine, she wrote in October this year: "In adults, addiction is usually reversible, but it may be irreversible in a foetus. These children may remain in a lifelong state of painful withdrawal."

She believes there is a clear link between "benzo babies" and the rise in the numbers of children with attention-deficit disorders, and addiction to alcohol and drugs, unheard of 30 years ago, she says.

In his reply, Mr Hellawell told Mrs Bell: "I am aware of the problems that women and pregnant drug-misusers face. The Women's Unit in the Cabinet Office, the Department of Health and the Home Office have been looking at the problems caused by taking prescribed drugs during pregnancy. Consequently, we will be funding the first comprehensive study of services currently available to women, the barriers they face and identifying the gaps in provision. Over 1million from the Confiscated Assets Fund will finance this initiative for the next two years."

The Oldham mother said: "I believe my baby was, as it were, anaesthetised and drugged up. This is not to put fear into would-be mothers. In those days, in a safe labour ward, you did as you were told. But who is going to care for these children, many of who are now grown-up men and women with their own set of non-self-inflicted problems?"

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