The Legend Begins
Years ago, in urban legend type fashion, rumors swirled that eating a poppy seed bagel would make you test positive for heroin. It seemed like you would have to eat hundreds of bagels coated in poppy seeds to sway a drug test like that, but a new story is bringing that urban legend back to life.
A new mother has her newborn daughter taken away from her after testing positive for opiates, the drug class derived from the poppy plant that includes heroin, morphine, codeine, and many pharmaceutical forms. Apparently Elizabeth Mort ate an everything bagel as she went into labor with Isabella and when the Jameson Hospital in Pennsylvania administered a standard urine drug screen, the test was set to detect the slightest amount of opiate presence, and Elizabeth and Isabella tested positive for opiates.
During the initial poppy seed controversy in the past, the federal standards for the minimum detection rate were increased to 2,000 nanograms per milliliter. The test Elizabeth was given was set to pick up on just 300 nanograms per milliliter.
Justice is Served
Child Protective Services immediately took Isabella away from Elizabeth, and the new mother was emotionally distraught. Instead of sleeping, recovering from childbirth, and enjoying the time with her new baby girl, Elizabeth Mort had to hire a lawyer and plead her case. It only took a few days to win and be reunited with her daughter, but the emotional hardship of losing a child would have been avoided if the hospital had checked the actual drug test results. The ruling judge awarded Elizabeth $143,500 in damages and Isabella was released to her care.
Of course Child Protective Services and Jameson Hospital do not want to allow a drug-addicted mother to take home a newborn child, but the staff did not even consider the possibility of another explanation for the positive drug screen. Had the staff member who read the test noticed that the opiate count was extremely low, the whole situation could have been avoided.
Who’s to Blame?
The idea behind testing new mothers is to ensure that the baby is not going home to an addicted household. If the hospital and Child Protective Services can identify unfit mothers who need treatment right after giving birth, children can be protected from a tumultuous life. Women can go to rehab and be sober and able to care for their children at some point, rather than continuously subjecting their sons and daughters to a substance abusing mother.
Opiates are highly addictive drugs that are hard to quit. If Elizabeth Mort has been using opiates while pregnant, Isabella should have been taken from her care. Is the system set up to help the new mother get well though, or is the protocol simply to take the child away? What good does that really do a woman who is abusing opiates? She will essentially then have more reason to use and more pain to numb.
Elizabeth’s story ended well, but how many women without the ability to hire a lawyer are living without a child for a false positive drug test?
Kate is a blogger from Los Angeles who writes for Balboa Horizons about drug abuse and parenting.