Born junkies: 13 Sunderland babies weaned off heroin

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HEROIN babies born to drug addicts are spending the first few weeks of their lives going cold turkey.

Figures obtained by the Echo reveal 13 newborns at Sunderland Royal Hospital have had to be weaned off the killer drug in the past two years due to their mothers’ addictions.

But medical 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 admitted 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, mums go home without their children and social services are informed.

A pathway of care is also put in place to support the children through their first few weeks of life. This includes:

•all women who are associated with drug use attend a specialist clinic in the antenatal period

•at the point of the birth of the baby, there is a post natal plan of care in place

•parenting capacity is assessed prior to discharge from hospital

•a pre-discharge meeting is held where Children’s Services are involved

A spokeswoman for Sunderland Royal Hospital said: “On transfer into community care, where there is a Child Protection plan/Child in Need plan, the community midwife visits the mother and baby daily for 10 days.

“The baby is brought into the Hospital Post natal clinic at the weekend and the mother is given support from the midwife and breast feeding support workers.

“After the 10 days, the midwife will continue to visit two to three times per week until 28 days post delivery. Urine toxicology will be carried out at those visits.

“On days 10 to 14, the health visitor will become involved in the post natal care and will take over this care from the midwife at 28 days.”

It costs Sunderland’s NHS more than £1million to wean adult heroin users off the drug. Sunderland medics 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.