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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.

In the News: Drinking During Pregnancy Could Become a Crime

In the News: Drinking During Pregnancy Could Become a Crime

A landmark test case due to be heard by the Court of Appeal could criminalize heavy drinking during pregnancy. Sky News has reported that it will be disputed that a six-year-old girl is the victim of a crime because she suffered brain damage when she was exposed to alcohol in the womb – a danger that her mother was conscious of.

The case comes amongst a 50 per cent rise in FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) in the last three years, with 313 impaired from exposure to alcohol in the womb in 2012-2013. Figures from the Department of Health show in total around 1 in 100 babies are now born with alcohol-related conditions. Expert psychiatrist Dr. Raja Mukherjee cautioned that pregnant women do not have to binge-drink to be at jeopardy.

“If you avoid it that’s the safest route,” he told Sky News. “That doesn’t mean that people who’ve drunk a little bit have harmed their child, most people won’t have done, but if you want to guarantee safety and you want to guarantee no risk then no alcohol is the best way forward,” he added.

Sue Brett, the adoptive mother of 15-year-old Glenn who was born with FAS after his mother drank heavily, said women need to be better informed to the risks. She told the news channel: “It should be to abstain from alcohol throughout pregnancy. You can’t make it a criminal offence if you are still legally saying this is a safe amount to drink or you can drink. It needs to be clear from the start that you can’t drink.”

After Glenn was unprotected to alcohol in his mother’s womb, he has physical incapacities affecting his visualization and movement, and the intellectual age of a four-year-old. Susan Fleisher, the creator of the charity NOFAS-UK which supports awareness about the effect of alcohol during pregnancy, come to an agreement that more needs to be done to cut the number of children being affected, but does not think prosecution is the solution.

She stated to sky news that “women can’t be prosecuted for something they don’t know about, and, to be fair, women who are alcoholics, who have an issue with drinking, should be given support and should be given information so they know there’s a chance they could harm another life.”

In my opinion, this issue is very important but can be tricky to deal with. I do believe that if a mother is aware she is pregnant and excessively drinking, that it should be a problem. But if a woman isn’t aware of her pregnancy, how can we punish her for that? You can’t enforce a law and not apply it to everyone and this would be a law that would end up being very circumstantial. I know a few women who drank in the beginning of their pregnancy because they weren’t aware of the fact that they were pregnant. The question is – how would they actually enforce this law? If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll free 1-800-951-6135.


Addiction News: April 16th, 2013


NIH researchers identify pathway that may protect against cocaine addiction [NIH]

Alcohol causes low birth weight, even when mother has treatment 12 months prior [Examiner]

Beer’s taste, sans alcoholic effect, triggers dopamine in brain [ LA Times]

Alcohol Risk For Older People May Be Greater Than That For Teens [Huffington Post]

If your loved one is in need of treatment for alchol and/or drug addiction please give us a call at 800-951-6135.

Effects of Alcohol on Pregnant Women

There are multiple effects of alcohol on pregnant women. It is common knowledge in today’s society that smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol should be stopped once you become pregnant. The biggest effects of alcohol on pregnant women are that it can be very harmful to the baby, effecting size and weight and may even cause lifelong health conditions. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause dangers such as:

  • Miscarriage
  • Preterm Birth
  • Stillbirth

The effects of alcohol on pregnant women are numerous but one of the biggest dangers is a health condition that can develop called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or fetal alcohol syndrome. Fetal alcohol syndrome can seriously harm the development of a baby during pregnancy, both mentally and physically although the effects of alcohol on pregnant women can last throughout a child’s lifetime.

The effects of alcohol on pregnant women are more dangerous because when they drink alcohol, so does the baby. The same amount of alcohol that is in their blood is also in the baby’s blood. When a woman drinks alcohol while pregnant the alcohol in their blood quickly passes through the placenta and to their baby through the umbilical cord.

Adult bodies are made to handle alcohol a lot better than that of a developing fetus and then later an infant. Developing bodies can be damaged from toxic substances such as alcohol. Adult bodies are able to manage alcohol in their blood a baby’s body cannot. A woman’s liver can break down the alcohol in her blood at one drink per hour – a baby cannot. The effects of alcohol on pregnant women are that their baby’s liver is too small to break down the alcohol the same way they can. This is why drinking any amount of alcohol while pregnant is so dangerous. This inability of the baby’s liver to break down alcohol can lead the baby to have serious health conditions and serious complications throughout the pregnancy and even after. It is being shown that the effects of alcohol on pregnant women last much longer than just pre-birth.

The effects of alcohol on pregnant women are numerous but one of the biggest dangers is a health condition that can develop called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or fetal alcohol syndrome. Fetal alcohol syndrome can seriously harm the development of a baby during pregnancy, both mentally and physically. The effects of alcohol on pregnant women are:

  • Birth defects
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Born Premature
  • Low birth weight
  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech and language delays
  • Behavioral problems
  • Growth deficiency

Of course the biggest and most serious effect of alcohol in pregnant women is to lose the baby entirely. The effects of alcohol on pregnant women can cause permanent harm to their baby.

A woman who drinks quite a bit while pregnant could have a totally healthy baby while a woman who drank only a little ended up having a baby with birth defects or complications. The effects of alcohol on pregnant women are that drinking alcohol affects all them differently. No woman knows if a little or a lot will hurt their baby.

The best way to make sure there are no complications or dangers is to not drink at all while pregnant. Risking the effects of alcohol on pregnant women are not worth it. So as soon as a woman knows she is pregnant it is best to stop drinking all together. Even having an occasional drink before knowing they are pregnant can still affect the fetus. Baby making is serious business and any women who’s at risk of becoming pregnant should be cautious of how much alcohol they consume.

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