WEED OUT: More than a dozen city maternity wards regularly test new moms for marijuana and other drugs
Random testing deemed ‘absolutely discriminatory’ by National Advocates for Pregnant Women, claiming doctors target monorities and low-income families.
This time it’s the mothers who are subjected to high-stakes testing.
More than a dozen city maternity wards regularly test new mothers for drugs, then turn the results over to child-protection authorities if they are positive for pot, the Daily News has learned.
Family Court attorneys said they see scores of neglect proceedings each year originating from a positive marijuana test — almost exclusively against low-income and minority women.
Private hospitals in rich neighborhoods rarely test new mothers for drugs, whereas hospitals serving primarily low-income moms make those tests routine and sometimes mandatory.
“It’s absolutely discriminatory,” said Lynn Paltrow of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. “This all comes out of the same history of racism, the drug war, misinformation.”
For example, Lenox Hill Hospital on the tony upper East Side — where roughly 12% of inpatients are uninsured or on Medicaid — only tests if the mother is obviously buzzed, a spokeswoman said.
But St. Barnabas Hospital — which is also private but serves an impoverished section of the Bronx, with roughly 73% of its patients uninsured or on Medicaid — requires all new mothers to agree to testing. If they refuse, their babies are tested, a spokesman said.
Glarimar Cruz, a 25-year-old Bronx mother, had her baby on the wrong side of the tracks.
She flunked a surprise drug test at St. Barnabas in March and admitted to smoking a joint at a party two weeks earlier. The hospital called the Administration for Children’s Services, which inspected her home while Cruz and her baby were held at the hospital, court records show.
Cruz was released two days later and subsequent drug tests came out negative. But ACS unearthed a two-year-old domestic violence complaint Cruz filed against the baby’s father claiming he brutalized her in front of the children and “refused to allow her to make phone calls,” court records show.
The agency issued an order of protection against the father – who quickly dropped out of the picture – and suggested Cruz move to a shelter.
After she refused, the agency filed a neglect petition and demanded a year of “mommy probation” — drug tests, counseling and parenting classes. “I feel like they ruined my whole family,” Cruz said, sobbing, as she balanced her cherubic baby boy on her lap. ACS dropped the case in October.
“It’s a relief it’s over, but I feel emotionally scarred,” she said.
St. Barnabas reports a handful of positive drug tests every month, said spokesman Steve Clark. “This is a high-risk population in this hospital,” he said. “The intent is to help them deliver healthy babies.”
Attorneys who fight these cases have began citing scientific findings that pot use poses less risk to fetuses than cigarettes or alcohol. “They take a urine test and act as if it can predict parenting ability,” said Emma Ketteringham of the Bronx Defenders, which represented Cruz. “It’s doing more harm than good.”
The shift in legal strategy followed a landmark decision by a Brooklyn judge early this year that included the first-ever expert testimony in this type of case.
Columbia University neuroscientist Carl Hurt has testified marijuana poses less risk to the fetus than alcohol or cigarettes.
“All the scientific research,” Hart wrote in a court document, “leads me to conclude that recreational use of marijuana does not undermine responsible parenting.”
City officials said no figures are available on the number of neglect cases that stem from positive maternity ward drug tests. But anecdotal estimates from attorneys put the number between 100 and 200 a year.
ACS Commissioner Ronald Richter said his agency is mandated to investigate reported cases and follow the laws against marijuana.
“I’m not going to sit here and say we’re always able to meet our burden,” said Richter. “That’s why we have a court.”
In fact, the issue of maternity ward drug tests made its way to the highest court in the land. The Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that taking such tests without consent, when they could lead to a criminal charge, amounts to an unconstitutional search. But the ruling does not cover civil child protection proceedings.
An analysis by The News found that testing policies vary citywide:
* Eleven city-run hospitals test if the mother has admitted to past drug use or shows signs of “aberrant behavior,” a Health and Hospitals Corporation spokeswoman said.
* Brookdale Hospital in hardscrabble Brownsville, Brooklyn, tests at the discretion of the physician.
* Hospitals in affluent neighborhoods — like Methodist in Park Slope and Lenox Hill on the upper East Side — test only on rare occasions.
That’s why “you just don’t have these cases in privileged women,” said Cruz’s attorney, Ketteringham.
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/weed-dozen-city-maternity-wards-regularly-test-new-mothers-marijuana-drugs-article-1.1227292#ixzz2GAsuTsxr