Baby died after mum's methadone dose
Wednesday Oct 4 18:08 AEST
A five-month-old infant died after he was deliberately given methadone by his drug dependent mother, a Sydney coroner has found.
It followed the death of another of the woman's children in similar circumstances, Deputy State Coroner Dorelle Pinch said.
Ms Pinch said while she could not rule on the exact cause of the baby's death, the presence of methadone in his body was a "significant contributing factor".
She said the child's mother deliberately gave her son the heroin substitute, which was found at a level beyond anything that could have been ingested through breastfeeding.
In recording her findings at Glebe Coroner's Court, Ms Pinch said she had concerns for any future children the woman may have because her older son had died in similar circumstances.
Any future children should be regularly tested for drugs, while the mother, and any other members of the household on methadone programs, should not be allowed to take home prescribed doses, she said.
The mother and her partner, who were both on methadone maintenance programs, denied giving the baby the drug.
But Ms Pinch said appropriate measures must be taken to ensure the safety of any new children.
"On the balance of probabilities ... I am satisfied that methadone toxicity was, at least, a significant contributing factor in (the baby's) death," she said.
"For this reason, I regard his death as suspicious and, because of the similarities between the two, it also raised questions about the circumstances leading to (his brother's) death.
"This may be unfair to (the mother) but my concern is for the safety of any children she may have in the future."
The baby was pronounced dead after being found face down between the mattress and the side of his cot at his Sydney home on May 27, 2003.
He had been treated for neo-natal abstinence syndrome in St George Hospital, in Sydney's south, about three months earlier, despite not requiring methadone treatment immediately after he was born.
Ms Pinch said although the baby had shown few signs of withdrawal, the mother admitted her son to hospital because she knew she had stopped giving him the drug.
Ms Pinch said she was satisfied it was the mother who gave her son the drug because she had access to methadone, prepared the baby's food, and benefited most from having a "docile child".
There was uncertainty about the exact level of methadone found in the baby, and three doctors told the court that they could not say it was the direct cause of death.
But all three said that if he had suffocated between the mattress and the edge of his cot, then the level of methadone he had ingested would have significantly contributed to his death.
The court was also told other identified natural causes that are characteristic of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) could not be ruled out.
The baby's brother died aged four months on June 5, 1997, when the mother was similarly methadone dependent.
He was either on the lounge next to his mother or in her arms when she fell asleep. He was resuscitated but suffered a brain injury and died from a respiratory infection.
NSW Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said she backed the deputy coroner's recommendation that members of the baby's household on methadone programs not be allowed to take home prescribed doses.
"We totally support that," she told AAP.
"I believe that aspect of (the) methadone (program) needs a review and we should be worrying about protecting children and other innocent lives."
Ms Skinner said if the opposition won government at next year's state election, more emphasis would be given to implementing recommendations made by coroners.
None of the parties can be identified due to a suppression order issued by the court.