Woman claims poppy seeds caused her to fail drug test

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A New Castle mother who claims that poppy seeds on a bagel caused her to fail a drug test, prompting authorities in Lawrence County to seize her newborn baby, plans to file a federal lawsuit today, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Elizabeth Mort and Alex Rodriguez, parents of Isabella Rodriguez, have said that poppy seeds on a Dunkin Donuts everything bagel caused a false positive on an April drug test conducted by Jameson Hospital in New Castle. Poppy seeds contain opiates that are sometimes mistaken for drugs, although there are blood tests that can discern between compounds in the seeds and illegal substances.

The test result prompted Lawrence County Children and Youth Services to remove Isabella from her home the day after her discharge from the hospital, and put her in protective custody for five days.

The ACLU and attorney Patricia Dodge, of Meyer, Unkovic & Scott, plan to represent Ms. Mort in suing both the county and the hospital, according to a news release by the ACLU. Her attorneys declined to be interviewed, but a copy of the complaint to be filed today indicated that they will seek a finding that authorities need more evidence than a single drug test to remove an infant from its parents.

The complaint says the county agency is "removing newborns without any reasonable suspicion that they have been abused or are in imminent danger of abuse, in violation of parents' fundamental constitutional rights, and Jameson is aiding and abetting that constitutional violation" by conducting tests that aren't medically necessary.

Lawrence County Commission Chairman Steve Craig said that Children and Youth Services acted properly based on the information provided by the hospital.

"When [hospital employees] say she failed a drug test, what do you do, say, 'Oh, well, we understand she ate a bagel?' " said Mr. Craig. He added that Ms. Mort told county case workers that she had a history of drug use, and called the claim that a bagel was to blame "an allegation. There's nothing to back that up in this case."

The complaint says Ms. Mort did not use illegal drugs while pregnant. She has no criminal record in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Craig said the county also had concluded that the infant got "little or no prenatal care," contributing to the decision to place her in foster care.

He added that the hospital is reviewing its procedures, and called the seizure of the infant "an unfortunate set of circumstances" that was promptly reversed. "The judge then rescinded the order and the child was returned to the care of the mother.

"This was, I'm sure, very traumatic to the mother. I don't deny it," he said, adding that the infant was well cared-for. "We will always err on the side of caution when it comes to protecting children."

The complaint alleges that the hospital and county violated the family's due process rights, invaded their privacy, and were negligent. The family seeks "nominal" damages and attorney fees.

Jameson Hospital officials could not be reached for comment.

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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