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.