AN organisation that pays drug addicts and alcoholics to be surgically sterilised or use long-term contraception wants to set up in the Hunter, having received requests from addicts and workers in the field.
Project Prevention operates in the United States and the United Kingdom, paying $US300 or £200 to women and men addicted to drugs or alcohol who agree to have their tubes tied or get a vasectomy, or use long-acting contraceptives, such as intrauterine devices or implants.
The group says its aims to protect children, reduce the social welfare burden on taxpayers and help addicts.
It says growing numbers of babies are being born with foetal alcohol syndrome or drug-related conditions, with many placed in foster care.
Hunter New England Health says the program does not fall within Australian policy. But national specialists are debating its pros and cons.
Critics say Project Prevention preys upon desperate people and feeds stigma.
The charity has paid about 4000 drug- and alcohol-dependent people overseas and is looking to establish in Australia.
Project Prevention founder Barbara Harris said interest was coming from the Hunter Region.
‘‘I have heard from over 50 people from all walks of life expressing the need for us there,’’ Ms Harris said.
Inquiries were from people sharing personal stories about addicts, children of addicts and workers in the field.
The Newcastle Herald reported last year that the number of babies born to illicit drug users in the Lower Hunter was rising, with staff at John Hunter Children’s Hospital treating more than 50 ‘‘addicted’’ babies a year.
Ms Harris said extending operations to the Hunter would depend on donor funding.
Hunter New England Health acute networks operations director Todd McEwan said the Hunter health group’s maternity, children’s and drug and alcohol services worked together to treat mothers with substance abuse problems, most commonly tobacco and alcohol, and their babies.
‘‘We work closely with these mothers before and after the birth of their baby, providing both hospital and home-based care,’’ Mr McEwan said.
Counselling, parenting classes and referrals to social work, drug and alcohol and other health services were offered.
Hunter New England Health children, young people and families director Trish Davidson said John Hunter Children’s Hospital closely monitored babies of mothers with substance abuse problems after birth and managed the effects.
The child was followed for a year to monitor his or her development and provide treatment and immunisations.
Australian specialists are showing interest in Project Prevention.
In journal Addiction, Queensland academics said more research was needed on ways small, non-cash incentives for reversible contraception could be used in a morally acceptable way to promote the sexual, reproductive and general health of addicted women.
An Australian Doctor poll of 411 respondents found one in three health professionals believed cash incentives should be used to encourage drug addicts to use contraception or be sterilised.