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Poppy seed-induced positive drug test spurs changes at Lawrence County hospital

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 12:33 p.m.
 

A Lawrence County hospital and the county's Children and Youth Services agency agreed to pay $143,500 and change their policies to settle one of two federal “poppy seed” lawsuits filed over a county policy that automatically separated newborns from mothers who tested positive for opiates at delivery.

Elizabeth Mort in April 2010 ate a poppy seed bagel two hours before she went to Jameson Health System, where she tested positive for opiates in the predelivery screening. Based on that result, the county took custody of her daughter.

“I am happy that the changes made by (the agency) and the hospital will prevent similar situations to others in the future,” said Mort, 24, of New Castle.

Lawyers for both sides filed a motion on Tuesday to dismiss the case. Lawyers and spokeswomen for the hospital and county agency couldn't be reached for comment.

Sara Rose, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represented Mort, said one of the most important policy changes is that Jameson Health System will report a positive drug test to Children and Youth Services only when it's based on a test of the infant's meconium, or first bowel movement. In the case of eating poppy seeds, the “opiates” show up in a test of the mother's urine but not in the newborn's meconium, she said.

The hospital also agreed it would talk to parents first about the potential causes of a positive drug test before contacting the county agency.

“As a result of this case, the county agreed to evaluate its procedures to ensure that families had an opportunity to discuss any reason for the test results that come out of Jameson,” said Marie Jones, a lawyer with the agency.

The hospital staff didn't tell Mort and the baby's father that there had been a positive test, so they had no warning when two police officers and two caseworkers knocked on their door the day after they returned home with their daughter, Rose said.

U.S. District Judge David Cercone ruled in pretrial motions in September that the county's policy of separating a mother from her newborn child “without any valid basis for doing so” was an arbitrary use of government power that “shocks the conscience.”

In a separate lawsuit still pending, Eileen Bower of New Castle is suing the county agency and hospital for taking custody of her son for 75 days based on a test result that showed a “trace” of opiates.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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