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Should Pregnant Women Face Mandatory Drug Tests?

Should Pregnant Women Face Mandatory Drug Tests?

Author: Shernide Delva

As a result of the high rates of heroin and painkiller abuse, some doctors are calling for mandatory drug tests for all pregnant women. The effects of drug and alcohol use on pregnancy is fully known to be harmful, however some argue that drug testing of pregnant women will actually cause more harm than good. Should pregnancy drug tests be mandatory?

When a pregnant woman uses drugs or alcohol throughout pregnancy, she puts her child at risk of developing neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) which produces a variety of withdrawal-like symptoms.

Common symptoms of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) include:

  • Nausea
  • Uncontrolled twitching
  • Seizures
  • Excessive and particularly high-pitched crying
  • Problems feeding
  • An inability to sleep
  • Fever

Babies exposed to opiate painkiller drugs in the womb can suffer withdrawals that are so painful, that they must be treated with morphine or other sedatives. The long term effects of babies born with NAS are still not fully known, however babies who are born with NAS are more likely to suffer from medical complications such as low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Due to the potentially severe consequences of drug use during pregnancy, many doctors have come out stating that they will require all expecting mothers to complete a drug tests. However, some argue that this will prevent those struggling from wanting to get adequate healthcare due to fear of being criminalized.

Because of this fear, doctors and health officials want to ensure that pregnant woman know they will not be punished for their drug use if the results come out negative. They want lawmakers to shield pregnant addicted mothers from punishment.

So far, legislature have taken the first step of quietly passed measures to prohibit doctors from giving results of a pregnant woman’s drug tests to police without a court order.  Without laws like this becoming mainstream, many pregnant women struggling with drug addiction will be too afraid to come forward.  However, the symptoms of NAS are too severe to ignore:

“Their care is very labor intensive because they’re nearly inconsolable,” said Dr. Mark Gentry, an obstetrician at Hendricks Regional Health in Brownsburg. “It’s heart-jerking and becoming much more prevalent.”

Gentry’s hospital is one in four in the state of Indiana that will start a pilot project testing pregnant women for drugs with the intention of promoting treatment, not criminalization. For now, women are allowed to opt out of the screenings since they are not legally required to do so.

Gentry states that many women will feel uncomfortable agreeing to the tests for fear of punishment. Under current law, doctors must call child welfare authorities if they feel a child is being abused. That could include cases where a child is exposed to drug in the womb, though no law specifically states this, and the state doesn’t track the number of drug-dependent newborns.

Sadly, hospitals have seen a spike in drug-dependent babies. The rate of babies born with drug dependency nearly quadrupled from 2004 to 2013. Now, every 27 of every 1,000 babies admitted to intensive-care are admitted due to drug related issues. Many states like Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina have tightened legislation to reduce the number of babies born with drug dependency. However, Gentry warn that laws like this actually scare woman away from the care they truly need.

Laws that focus on criminalizing pregnancy women struggling with drug addiction may be harmful to those who are suffering the most. Instead, laws that reaffirm women that they will not be criminalized are more likely to result in more women coming forward with their challenges.

Overall, the main goal is to prevent innocent babies from being born with NAS symptoms. Are mandatory drug tests for pregnant women the solution? If you are a pregnant women struggling with addiction, please come forward. It is not just your life, it is the life of your newborn at risk. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

Drug Dependent Babies Increase in Southwest Florida

Drug Dependent Babies Increase in Southwest Florida

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

For a long time there was the notion of ‘crack babies’ that started back in the 90’s. The term included infants born addicted to crack-cocaine with major birth defects and disabilities due to their parents being addicts. While that whole claim has been scientifically disputed, the number of babies that health officials have described as being born hooked on prescription painkillers, commonly referred to as neonatal abstinence syndrome, have reportedly rose to a record high at Lee County hospitals of Florida in 2014.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Babies exposed to opiate painkiller drugs in the womb can suffer painful withdrawals that frequently must be treated with morphine and the sedative phenobarbital. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) could apply to any kind of narcotic drug exposure in the womb.

Common symptoms of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) include:

  • Nausea
  • Uncontrolled twitching
  • Seizures
  • Excessive and particularly high-pitched crying
  • Problems feeding
  • An inability to sleep
  • Fever

The long-term effects of NAS are not clearly understood at this time. Babies diagnosed with NAS are more likely to suffer serious medical complications, including early births and low birth weights, and often have to spend a month longer in the hospital to receive adequate care.

The Growing Concern

For a while there were hopes in Southwest Florida that the frequency of NAS would have finally stabilized, as they had statewide. Instead instances have jumped nearly 24% between 2013 and 2014, and a whopping 1,325% since 2005. That makes 114 babies, according to Lee Memorial Health System, born drug dependent.

  • 2012 nearly 12 of every 1,000 babies born in Lee Memorial Health System hospitals showed signs of NAS
  • 2014 was nearly 18 per 1,000- more than twice the state average

Dr. William Liu, who is the medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit at the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, stated:

“We knew it wasn’t getting less. But the numbers show us, quantitatively, that we’re actually seeing more.”

It was estimated that around half of the women delivering these babies had been using methadone, which is considered the safest option for pregnant women addicted to painkillers as part of a drug treatment program since quitting cold turkey actually increases the chance of miscarriage for a recovering addict mother.

Prescription medications such as oxycodone have gotten harder to find on the streets since crack downs on pill-mills and prescription drug restrictions, Southwest Florida addicts, much like addicts all over the country, have turned to illicit drugs such as heroin or the morphine-derivative known as Dilaudid.

According to Florida state records, neighboring counties such as Collier and Charlotte are far lower with NAS rates, and Dr. Liu said he’s unsure why Lee County is seeing more cases than other parts of Florida.

History of NAS

The Golisano Children’s Hospital established its program to identify cases of NAS back in 2002. 8 years later in 2010 an investigation found that NAS cases had risen 800% in the preceding years in Lee alone, and over-all had nearly tripled throughout Florida.

The Attorney General Pam Bondi launched a task force in 2013 to raise public awareness and to encourage hospitals to better screen for such cases. NAS was added to the list of mandatory reportable conditions in June 2014.

Stepping Up

Department spokeswoman Natalie Spindle released a written statement Friday that said Florida public health officials are monitoring the problem and are addressing NAS prevention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also looked at Florida’s problem and noted in a report released in March that NAS cases have actually been increasing statewide for the last two decades. In the CDC study they found:

  • Nearly 97% of the new mothers had used some sort of opiate or opiate-mimicking drugs.
  • More than 96% were illicit drug users or using methadone as part of their drug treatment
  • Their average age was 27
  • Mostly non-Hispanic whites
  • The infants averaged 26 days in the NICU after they were born

Dr. Jennifer Lind, a CDC epidemiologist and lead author of the report, stated that even though 90% of women had been drug screened at the hospital, only 10% were ever referred to get drug treatment. ONLY 10%! So why is it that people are turning a blind eye or even a deaf ear to this devastating issue?

This goes on to prove the point that more needs to be done as far as raising awareness about the dangers of drug use during pregnancy, and even more effort needs to be put into properly reporting these issues and getting these addicted mothers the treatment they desperately need.

While infants are innocent regarding their addictions, teens and adults should be held accountable for theirs, and addicted parents have to take the opportunity to take action if they want to change their lives, for them and their children. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

In the News: Drug Dependent Babies in Tennessee Challenge Doctors

In the News: Drug Dependent Babies in Tennessee Challenge Doctors

There is an epidemic of drug-addicted babies being born in Tennessee and across the country. The challenge comes when these babies are born and start to go through a terribly painful withdrawal process called NAS (neonatal abstinence syndrome).

Neonatal intensive care units in Tennessee are filling up faster than the health care system can figure out how to treat these babies being born to drug-addicted mothers. In the past decade, the number of babies with NAS has increased tenfold. Last year alone, there were 921 drug-dependent babies born in across the state.

Being at the forefront of this issue, Tennessee is struggling with how to go about addressing the problem. And it’s obvious that it’s not a cut-and-dry situation. State laws differ widely and are even conflicting to one another.

What it boils down to is this: treatment versus punishment/criminalization.

Shortly, there will be two laws in effect at the same time that contradict one another. One law encourages treatment while at the same time protects parental rights of those seeking treatment; however, the other threatens jail time for addicted mothers.

At the crossroads are the doctors who are attempting to treat these mothers and their babies. Laws like these leave doctors clueless as to what to tell their patients.

The Challenges

With addiction comes negative stigma and rampant misunderstanding about the disease. People who struggle with substance abuse and addiction are often ashamed and fearful to seek help. And then you have women addicts who know they are pregnant. The guilt, shame, and fear is compounded by their situation, and they face the very real possibility of having their babies taken away by the state.

Then there’s the unclear approach to treatment of babies with NAS. With the exact cause of withdrawal syndrome still unknown, treatment approaches are pretty much guesswork, at best; there’s a small handful of doctors that are actually equipped to truly help babies in this type of medical crisis.

Then, you have these same doctors who are unsure as to what to tell their patients, due to the mixed signals being sent by lawmakers.

Tennessee’s Opposing Laws

Last year, Tennessee legislators passed a law called the Safe Harbor Act, which was designed to encourage mothers with addiction to seek treatment. It also ensures parental rights, saying that, if addicted mothers seek help, then the Department of Children’s Services cannot take their children into state custody based solely on their having an addiction.

Dr. Jessica Young, who treats pregnant women with substance abuse problems daily at her Vanderbilt clinic – and is the only Middle Tennessee obstetrician whose practice targets this patient population, says of the Safe Harbor law, “[It’s] something I could talk about with patients to help assuage their fears that they were doing the right thing by getting treatment, that if they continued to do what they were supposed to do, they wouldn’t have to worry about losing custody.”

Yet, the legislature passed another law, one that targets mothers with drug addiction as perpetrators of crimes against infants. As of July 1, police will be able to arrest a woman whose baby tests positive for drugs if she can’t prove she’s taking steps to get clean.

Republican state Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, who sponsored the new law that criminalizes addicted mothers said, “It would just seem to me that any society that puts value on life would agree that these defenseless children deserve some protection and these babies need a voice.”

Weaver seems to think that the law is a good idea and that it would weed out those mothers who are “acting” and help other addicted mothers who truly want help. It’s obvious that Weaver doesn’t understand the psychological aspects of addiction.

Pregnant women with drug addiction face very-real barriers to getting help: those of shame and fear.

While doctors and medical insurance programs struggle with wanting to help and being bound by criminalizing legislation, many addicted women and their equally-addicted babies are left to suffer the consequences, both literally and figuratively.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, or is looking for treatment in Tennessee, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We can help!

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