Just before rushing to different hospitals to give birth, two women who didn’t know each other ate bagels with poppy seeds. Both were shocked to learn that the hospitals were screening them for illegal drugs and reporting them for possible abuse or neglect, according to their complaints.
Both tested positive for drug use due to the poppy seeds, their complaints filed with the state said. Now the two women from New Jersey want to change the guidelines for how hospitals handle drug tests.
The lawsuit accuses Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack and Virtua Voorhees Hospital in Voorhees Township of drug testing the two women without their knowledge or consent when they were about to give birth. They allege that the hospitals’ practice of drug testing pregnant people violates the state’s Gender and Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed two complaints with the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights on behalf of these women, known only as Kate and Kaitlin.
According to the complaints, each woman was only given one test, which was positive, and Kate and Kaitlin’s infants tested negative for opiates. However, they were visited by the Department of Child Protection and Permanency after they tested positive for drugs and reported them for possible abuse or neglect.
“Discriminatory testing policies like these upend a time of joy for families, and so often expose them to further trauma and unfair investigation by the state,” said ACLU attorney Molly Linhorst.
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A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights is not commenting on the ongoing investigation. Hackensack University Medical Center did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists “disagrees the practice in part because of the devastating legal consequences a positive test can have,” the ACLU said.
According to a Winchester Hospital article, eating poppy seed bagels can cause urine samples to test positive for opiates such as heroin, morphine and codeine.
The Pentagon issued an alert to its active-duty military personnel, warning them that some varieties of poppy seeds may have higher levels of codeine contamination.
“Research shows that morphine and codeine can sometimes be detected in urine up to 48 hours after ingestion of poppy seeds from some baked goods, such as bagels, muffins and cakes,” said the US Anti-Doping Agency, the national organization for the United States Olympic sports.
Kate said she never thought poppy seeds could cause a positive drug test, while Kaitlin told her nurse that she ate an all-bagel containing poppy seeds and the nurse told her that may have caused the positive results, they say in the complaints.
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Linhorst said the DCR’s job is to investigate alleged discrimination and determine whether or not it took place. After an investigation, it can be brought before an administrative judge for sentencing, and the Director of the Civil Rights Division can confirm, deny, or amend and remit it.
The women contacted the ACLU within a week of giving birth, which was alarming for the civil rights organization, Linhorst said.
“We see this as a broader government problem,” Linhorst said. “We’ve heard from more women with very similar stories.”
Similar cases have been filed in New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois and have resulted in policy changes and financial damage, Linhorst said.
Linhorst said more and more women are reaching out and sharing their stories because they realize they are not alone in their experience. She said discrimination of this type is statistically more likely to occur among black mothers and infants.
Kaitlin said she later found the lab’s testing threshold was “far, far lower than what the federal government uses.”
Linhorst said the goal is to set a precedent for other hospitals to take note that “these drug testing practices are unlawful and discriminatory.” She also wants hospitals to recognize that there could also be race-based discrimination.
“I felt like the doctors were questioning my character and parenting skills,” Kate said. “I’m scared of ever going into a hospital again; I will always worry that our family might be torn apart. So we’re doing everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone.”
Kaitlin and Kate want their medical records changed so they don’t reflect the positive drug tests. Linhorst said the women are concerned the tests could be used to stigmatize them or lead providers to not trust them.
“Because of what happened, I live in fear of medical tests and how they could be used against me as a mother,” Kaitlin said.
In addition to trying to make a lasting change, the women are seeking reparation for the emotional trauma they suffered after drug testing. Lindhorst said at least one of them is still paying “significant hospital bills” from her and her child’s stay.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Mohnbagels, In-hospital Drug Testing Affects Birth Experience, Women Say