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Drug Crimes And Pregnancy

State and federal laws concerning illegal drugs have proliferated almost without regard to their effectiveness. Time and again, legislators have doubled or tripled down on methods that do not produce positive results. While there are many victims of the failed, yet ongoing War on Drugs, few have as much to lose as women who are forced to deal with those laws in connection with a pregnancy. Between draconian penalties associated with drug offenses and overzealous, ill-informed child welfare agencies, mothers and their children face serious harm from the laws designed to "protect" our society.

Abuse of painkillers and heroin is on the rise. Fortunately, new methods have been developed to help combat addiction to these substances. Unfortunately, some child welfare agencies regard the treatment itself as sufficient cause to remove a child from custody and place it in the system. In some states, mothers are subjected to criminal prosecution for taking medication that was prescribed to them by their doctors to treat addiction. 

The problem arises under laws aimed directly at prenatally exposed children. A substance such as methadone is often prescribed to help women who are addicted to opioids. Methadone is also an opioid, but it is legal and has proven effective in breaking the cycle of addiction to other substances. A child exposed to methadone in the womb will go through symptoms of withdrawal, but there no research has tied the withdrawal to long-term damage. Still, based solely on the child's exposure to a legally prescribed medication, a woman can be deprived of custody.

Mothers who fear loss of custody are unlikely to seek proper prenatal care. When women who work to break their addictions so they can be better parents are penalized, there is something wrong. It does not serve the interests of mothers or their children to discourage medical care and promote secrecy.

Source: The Verge, "How drug laws aimed at pregnant women penalize their children," by Maia Szalavitz, 25 March 2016 issue 

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