DRUG-addicted babies at a major hospital in the North East are spending the first few weeks of their lives going cold turkey.
In the past two years, 13 newborns at Sunderland Royal Hospital have had to be weaned off heroin because of their mothers’ addictions.
Hospital bosses say they have plans in place to ensure the children affected are given the best treatment – and protection – to enable them to get free of the drug.
In 2013, six babies were admitted with a diagnosis of withdrawal symptoms from maternal use of heroin or methadone, with seven the previous year.
The affected babies have to be put on a similar withdrawal programme used for adult addicts.
Given morphine to calm them down, they are then gradually weaned off the substance which they were getting used to in their mother’s womb.
As well as going cold turkey, babies born to drug users suffer other problems, including born underweight and often with feeding problems.
In some cases, the mothers go home without their children and social services are informed.
A spokeswoman for Sunderland Royal Hospital said it costs Sunderland’s NHS more than £1m to wean adult heroin users off the drug.
Doctors in the city handed out 37,353 prescriptions for methadone and buprenorphine to those trying to kick their habits during the past two years.
The city’s NHS spent £702,350 on the heroin-substitutes, while a further £381,495 was spent on a “supervised consumption scheme”, which ensures the medicines are taken in a safe and controlled environment.
Although there is currently no official register of drug users in the city, there are about 1,010 adults engaged in drug treatment programmes.