A Parent’s Nightmare

    Posted October 29th, 2010 by

    By Sara Mullen, Associate Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

    Elizabeth Mort and Alex Rodriguez, of New Castle, Penn., thought the most difficult thing facing them when they arrived home from the hospital with their newborn daughter Isabella would be the sleepless nights.

    Instead, they were faced with the unthinkable — having their three-day-old daughter taken from them for five days by Lawrence County Children and Youth Services (LCCYS) because of Elizabeth’s false-positive drug test performed by the hospital where Isabella was born. Elizabeth, who was eventually cleared of illegal drug use, had eaten an "everything" bagel with poppy seeds two hours before being admitted to the hospital, causing the inaccurate test result (eating poppy seeds can cause drug tests to show false positives for opiate use).  Elizabeth was not even told she had tested positive for opiates until two police officers and two caseworkers came to her home and took her newborn baby daughter.

    Just imagine the anguish of watching the government take your infant daughter without telling you where she’s being held and giving you no means to contest it — all over something you know you didn’t do. Although their ordeal ended up lasting only (only!) five days, during that time Elizabeth and Alex had to face the possibility that they might not ever get their daughter back.

    "When she was gone our family was just at a loss of words," said Elizabeth about her ordeal. "I couldn’t stop crying. Alex just didn’t even know how to be himself. It felt like our heart was ripped in pieces. The most important person was missing, and we didn’t know when we would see her again."

    Neither the hospital nor LCCYS told the family that food or medication could cause a false positive. It wasn’t until Elizabeth’s distraught father started researching what could cause such a result in a drug test and even called a drug testing facility that they learned the source of false positive.

    This family’s heartbreak illustrates a point that many people miss — the importance of due process. It can seem like an abstract concept, but it’s a vital protection provided by the Constitution. Due process means that the government can’t use its awesome powers — whether it be putting you in jail or taking away your child — without giving you the chance to defend yourself. In this case, the Lawrence County Children and Youth Services took away Baby Isabella without talking to her parents, other family members, or Elizabeth’s obstetrician — it relied solely on the hospital’s report of a positive drug test.

    Like any institution made up of fallible human beings, the government and hospitals get it wrong sometimes. That’s why it is essential to have mechanisms in place to protect everyone’s rights — mechanisms neither the county children and youth services, nor this hospital, have.

    Yesterday, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit on behalf of Elizabeth and Alex. "We decided to file a lawsuit was so that Jameson Hospital and Lawrence County Children and Youth Services could not do this to another innocent family," said Elizabeth. "It breaks families apart. They need to research and ask questions before they jump to conclusions."

    Our lawsuit claims that Jameson Hospital was responsible for the harm to Elizabeth caused by the removal of her baby because it incorrectly interpreted the results of her drug test and reported a false positive to LCCYS. The lawsuit also charges that LCCYS has a policy of violating parents’ due process rights by authorizing its caseworkers to take infants into protective custody based solely on positive drug tests by their mothers without any reasonable suspicion that the infant has been abused or is in danger of abuse.

    Thankfully, Baby Isabella will not remember those five days when she was torn apart from her family. But her parents always will.

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    October 31, 2010 at 2:01 pm by zentrails

    Find a good lawyer and sue the crap out of these clowns.


    October 31, 2010 at 1:48 pm by Chris Salzmann

    We encountered a similar issue (though not to these extremes) when our daughter was born, here in Atlanta.

    My wife, after 2 miscarriages, was prescribed Zoloft by her physician, to help her cope with anxiety during her pregnancy. His opinion was that the risk to the unborn child was minimal and that high anxiety without treatment might cause more harm.

    It turned out to be a relatively normal pregnancy and my wife gave birth, via C-section, to a healthy baby girl. However, soon after her birth, our daughter started showing signs of withdrawal from the Zoloft and experienced a mild case of the “shakes”. Our physician had warned us that this might occur. However, the physician on call decided to confront my wife about her “illegal” drug use and also administered a urine test on our baby without permission (via small cup in her diaper). To add insult to injury, the hospital tried to charge us for this test (about $200) via our insurance. Naturally, we never heard back about this except that the head floor nurse later apologized to us when we told her about all this and on our way home, gave us large amounts of free formula, diapers and other stuff to make up for this unfortunate incident.

    You’d think that these folks would communicate with each other because a call to my wife’s physician would have prevented this entire misunderstanding from happening.


    October 31, 2010 at 11:47 am by mcc

    and who is to say that the baby will not remember this in some other way?
    of course the mind will not remember because it is not developed, but there are other factors…


    October 31, 2010 at 11:29 am by Taz Delaney

    bet they don’t test for alcohol, right? well, 72% of all murders are committed by one intoxicated on alcohol and 64% of domestic abuse cases involve alcohol. by comparison, other drugs just don’t come close. the drug war is always based upon disinformation and results in these unconstitutional breaches. hope this family wins millions!


    October 31, 2010 at 8:16 am by m

    The false positive problem with poppy seeds has been known for years. The levels of opiates produced in humans by dietary poppy is minuscule, and to continue to use tests that are so sensitive as to screen positive for such levels is malfeasant.


    October 31, 2010 at 2:37 am by Jim

    Hospital labs routinely use screening tests and then send out “positive” samples to a reference lab for confirmation. The turnaround time varies, of course, depending on many factors. The problem here lies completely with CPS for acting on unreliable information. Obviously the confirmatory test showed a false positive for the screen. Parents need well-trained, competent, legal advocates assigned to their cases the moment a child is removed from their care to ensure that the rights of the family, and most importantly the child, are protected.


    October 31, 2010 at 1:54 am by nedmorlef

    This is disturbing.My heart goes out to the family. Hopefully some keepers will be looking for a new gig.


    October 30, 2010 at 10:13 pm by MagnusT

    This is sickening. And of course, since you can’t sue the government because they were “only doing their job”, the only recourse is to shut up and take it.

    Government is pointless now. It serves only itself.

    Time to withdraw consent.


    October 30, 2010 at 10:08 pm by ww

    Why was a drug test administered in the first place?


    October 30, 2010 at 9:34 pm by Vision

    A few easy searches on the internet will bring up an endless list of criminal-like acts committed by various CPS (child protective services) agencies across this country.

    CPS agencies, like most of our law enforcement agencies, are comprised of unqualified, poorly uneducated and misguided individuals. They forget that as government workers, their job is to serve the citizens of this country.

    Instead, like other law enforcement agencies, the culture within’ the department is a “Us vs. Them” theme. This is mostly seen in low level law enforcement like city police and county sheriff departments. But it also exists in the FBI, BATF, and especially in the DEA.

    And then there’s the judicial system, which is also a mess.


    Will Reply:

    As a retired California law enforcement officer from the county level, I strongly concur with much of your assessment. However, your perspective of “unqualified, poor educated and misguided individuals” constituting the make up of CPS and law enforcement here in California, at least, is using too broad a brush. Nevertheless, I readily agree that law enforcement frequently attracts the type of personalities that contemporary pre-employment measures in place (psychological testing, etc.) should but often fail to weed out. Be assured that the “Us vs Them” dynamic is very real, alarming and counterproductive; and the judicial system comment rings so true.


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