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Mom’s Baby Taken Away Over Poppy Seed Bagel
It’s a nightmare no parent should ever have to endure, but fortunately in this woman’s case, a happy outcome is the result. In April 2010, Elizabeth Mort gave birth to a baby girl, Isabella Rodriguez, at Jameson Hospital in Lawrence County, Penn. Three days later, a child welfare caseworker arrived at Mort’s home and took Isabella away. Lawrence County child welfare agency had issued an emergency protective custody order because Mort had reportedly failed Jameson Hospital’s drug screening test.
In another five days, baby Isabella was returned to Mort. Lawrence County had found no evidence that Mort was an illegal drug user, or in any way a danger to her newborn. Several months later, in October 2010, Mort sued the hospital and the county child welfare agency. She claimed that the positive drug test Jameson Hospital has reported had been the result of nothing more sinister than eating a poppy seed bagel.
Bagels and Drugs: What’s the Connection?
Mort’s lawsuit was not the first time that poppy seed bagels have been blamed for positive drug tests. What’s going on here? Well, the delicious black seeds that flavor this particular type of bagel come from the same place as a variety of legal and illegal drugs called opioids: the opium poppy. The opium poppy contains alkaloids (a kind of natural chemical compound) called opiates.
Opioids are a large family of drugs. They include recreational drugs that are illegal in most countries, including opium and heroin. They also include medicinal drugs such as morphine and codeine that are only available with a prescription because they are very strong and very addictive.There is a lot of processing that needs to happen before opium poppy flowers become powerful drugs. Nevertheless, poppy flowers—and poppy seeds—contain some of the same basic compounds in opioid drugs. Drug tests are able to detect these compounds in the blood stream of a person who has taken drugs.
Opiates in Poppy Seeds
The levels of these compounds in the body of a person who has eaten a poppy seed bagel are much lower than the levels of someone who has taken opioid drugs. However, modern drugs tests are able to find even tiny amounts in a person’s blood stream. So eating a poppy seed bagel can lead to a positive drug test, right?
Well, yes, and also no. On one hand, a poppy seed bagel will cause opiates to appear in a person’s drug test. However, there are actually two steps to a standard drug test. The first step is the chemical process of figuring out whether opiates (or the compounds from other types of drugs) are present. The second step is determining whether the amount present meets the federal guidelines for a positive test.
The federal standard is 2,000 nanograms per millimeter. Basically, this standard means that there must be enough of the important compound in a person’s blood stream that drug testers can be reasonably positive it was the result of drug use.
Below Federal Standards
One of the reasons Mort decided to sue Jameson Hospital was that her positive drug test was significantly lower than those federal guidelines. The hospital had been using a different standard, and reporting tests as positive even when they were as low as 300 nanograms per millimeter. This extremely strict standard makes it much more likely that food or other medicines will lead to a false positive.
Mort also claimed that the hospital never told her she had tested positive and they never asked her whether she had eaten anything that might have affected her test. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed the lawsuit on her behalf, and is hoping that hospitals will learn from the case. The ACLU is recommending that hospitals and county welfare agencies do not take major steps like taking children away after a single drug test. They even suggest that hospitals that perform maternity drug tests reconsider the practice, since the tests are not completely reliable and may have serious consequences for the parent and child.
Elizabeth Mort settled her lawsuit against Jameson Hospital on July 3 for about $144,000.