Recently, I blogged about the horrible withdrawal symptoms suffered by newborns of moms addicted to prescription medication.
The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth voted Thursday to create a committee to study whether stronger laws and policies should be adopted to deal with women who use illegal drugs while pregnant.
The commission's Office of Juvenile System Oversight recently reviewed 10 cases involving babies who were born testing positive, or whose mothers tested positive or self-reported illicit drug use at the time of the baby's birth, the commission was told.
“Eight of the 10 babies died of subsequent neglect or abuse on average within 6.5 months of their birth,” the group reported. “One baby was subsequently removed after birth due to intervention from outside sources and survived. One baby's sibling who was 17 months old subsequently died approximately six weeks after the baby's birth as a result of abuse.”
Howard Hendrick, director of the state Department of Human Services, pointed out the cases reviewed were not randomly selected from infants and mothers who tested positive, so the deaths could not be used to statistically gauge the amount of risk associated with allowing a mother to go home with her baby after illegal drugs have been detected.
“Howard, you've still got eight dead kids in a year,” responded Commission Chairman Bart Bouse.
“Does it take a pickup load of dead babies before we decide to act?” Bouse said earlier, quoting a remark he said came from a district attorney discussing another issue.
Hendrick said he agreed there was a problem.
Currently, physicians are granted discretion in deciding whether new mothers and their newborns should be tested for illegal drugs and state child welfare workers have discretion in determining whether an infant should be removed from a mother following a positive drug test. A DHS spokeswoman has said that the support system a drug-using mother has at home is one factor used in determining whether an infant should be removed.
Among issues the committee is expected to consider are:
- Should Oklahoma pass legislation requiring mandatory drug testing of all newborns?
- Should Oklahoma pass legislation requiring removal from maternal custody, at least temporarily, of a child who tests positive?
- Should a positive drug test for a new mother be considered the same as the infant testing positive in determining whether the child should be removed?
- Should improperly used prescription drugs be considered the same as illegal street drugs in determining whether an infant should be removed?
- Should DHS change its policy to eliminate some of the discretion of child welfare workers in determining whether infants should be removed for positive drug tests?
- Should Oklahoma amend legislation that allows criminal prosecution for exposing children to illegal drugs to include exposing a fetus to illegal drugs?
- Should an infant who tests positive for alcohol or illegal drugs automatically be classified as deprived or a victim of child abuse?