An Australian doctor is calling for pregnant women to be allowed to use drug injecting rooms.

Mary Harrod started injecting heroin around a year before she found out she was pregnant. She didn’t realise she was pregnant straight away.

“You’re just crazy worried. You’re in this bind where you can’t stop using street drugs because if you go and seek treatment you are putting yourself in the hands of authorities,” Harrod, who now works with the NSW Users and AIDS Association, told ABC’s radio program AM this morning.

“Maybe [the authorities] are there to help you. But maybe they’ve got another agenda, that they’re thinking people who take drugs are evil and you have to internalise that.”

Harrod found a hospital program that allowed her to come off heroin, and keep her baby – a boy who has since gone on to graduate from Harvard. It was easier for Harrod than it is for a number of women. “I’m white. I’m educated. I come from a middle class family.”

The Medical Director of the Kings Cross injecting centre – the only place in Australia where illegal drugs can be injected under medical supervision – also spoke on ABC radio this morning.

Dr Marianne Jauncey spoke about a group of women that we don’t, really ever, talk about: pregnant women who are dependent on drugs and who have nowhere to turn.

At the moment, State Government laws prohibit pregnant women and people under 18 from using, or even entering, the injection clinic.

Dr Jauncey wants to change this. She wants to allow pregnant women to use the clinic to inject.

My first reaction was to recoil; to wonder how we could consider facilitating drug usage in pregnant women. What does that mean for the unborn children? What does that mean for society?

But the situation, as always, is not that simple. (Post continues after audio.)


“If that woman is already using drugs, if that woman is already injecting drugs or already dependent on heroin, and, on the day in question, has already been able to purchase the drugs… [if that woman] then makes it to the only place in the country where she can stay safe. Are you telling me, at that point, as a health facility, the best thing we can do is turn her away? No,” Dr Jauncey said.

As for the health of the foetus? Again, it’s not so straightforward.

“In that situation where a woman is pregnant, the danger comes from her stopping [drug use] suddenly because that will cause her body to enter into acute withdrawal,” Dr Jauncey told ABC radio.

“That is what has the most negative effect on the pregnancy.”

Dr Jauncey met with the minister responsible for the clinic today, along with a group of researchers, to discuss the issue further.

It’s a situation many of us are far removed from. But we have a responsibility to protect women and children; to consider those who are marginalised, unspoken for and in danger.

There is only one person more vulnerable than a pregnant woman, no doubt living in chaos, who is dependent on illegal drugs: their unborn baby.

Take away emotion, take away prejudice, what is in the best interest of the unborn baby?

Perhaps Dr Jauncey’s suggestion is the best way forward in what is a very difficult situation. It might be the spark of light that takes away some of the danger. A safety net in the darkness. The beginning of a change.

One very good thing? Her suggestion has us talking about a group of women we too often overlook. Surely that, in itself, is the first step forward.