The number of Northland children exposed to illegal drugs in their homes is "unfortunately common" but hard to quantify because most do not present to health services with a drug-related diagnosis, Northland District Health Board paediatrician Dr Roger Tuck says.
Exposure to alcohol-fuelled violence was also common for Northland children, particularly those from more deprived families, he said.
Dr Tuck was responding to a revelation that a Whangarei drug dealer's 11-month-old daughter became seriously ill from eating cannabis her father had left in the kitchen. The father sought medical help for the girl 24 hours after she ate the dope, but he initially denied any exposure by the child to drugs when questioned by doctors at Whangarei Hospital.
The toddler was semi-comatose, unresponsive to voice, and only responsive to stimuli by movement of her limbs when brought to the hospital on February 27.
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The girl made a full recovery after spending a night in the intensive care unit, but the father - Shain Gerrit Van Iperen, 27 - is serving a two-year nine months' jail term after pleading guilty to two charges of dealing cannabis oil, one of ill-treatment of a child, and a representative charge of manufacturing cannabis oil.
Dr Tuck did not know the statistics on the number of children who presented to health services with cannabis-induced symptoms and signs in Northland. "There is a general feeling that we under-diagnose it although we are much better at doing toxicology screens on children presenting with neurological impairment," he said.
"Whilst the evidence is accumulating that cannabis is not the benign drug we once thought it was and contributes hugely to the lost potential of our children and young people, as a paediatrician I have a much greater concern about the devastating impact of alcohol on our communities," he said.
Dr Tuck said alcohol was proving to be a huge elephant in the room, and alcohol-fuelled violence in our communities was truly appalling.
"Someone once said that cannabis was an ideal drug for unemployed warriors as it demotivates, whereas alcohol and methamphetamine are like pouring petrol on the flames of aggression. We know that the chemicals involved in cooking meth are highly toxic of course."
Dr Tuck earlier said there should not be any lasting effects on a one-off and accidental ingestion of cannabis by a child that young. But he is concerned about children living in a house with regular drug use.