PITTSBURGH (CN) - The state took a 3-day-old baby girl away from her parents because the new mom ate a poppy seed bagel that produced a false positive on a drug test, the young parents claim in Federal Court. The parents say police and Children's Services workers took the baby from their home "and held her in an undisclosed location for five days until admitting that [they] had made a mistake."
Elizabeth Mort and her fiancé Alex Rodriguez sued the Lawrence County Children and Youth Services, one of its caseworkers, and the Jameson Health System for negligence, privacy invasion, conspiracy and constitutional violations.
"Elizabeth Mort never imagined that the last thing she ate before giving birth to her daughter - a poppy-seed bagel - would lead to the loss of her newborn, but that is exactly what happened after the Jameson Health System ('Jameson') failed to account for the possibility that her positive urine drug screen was due to her ingestion of poppy seeds, and LCCYS, relying solely on Jameson's report of the positive prenatal drug test, took Mort's baby into protective custody," according to the complaint.
Mort says she never took any illegal drugs while she was pregnant, but 2 hours before she was admitted to Jameson's North Campus to give birth, she ate an "Everything" bagel from Dunkin' Donuts. Poppies, of course, produce opium, and poppy seeds have been known to cause false positive results on drug tests.
Jameson screens the urine of all its maternity patients for drugs, though this is "not required by any state or federal law or regulation, and there are no national standards delineating specific criteria for drug-testing pregnant women," according to the complaint.
Mort says no one at the hospital asked her whether she had eaten anything that could affect the test results, "nor did anyone at Jameson advise Plaintiff Mort that the ingestion of certain foods, such as poppy seeds, could impact the results of the UDS [urine drug screen]."
The couple claims that "the cut-off concentration levels used by Jameson to determine whether an initial or confirmation prenatal drug test is positive for opiates and/or morphine are so low that they are likely to produce false positive results; in fact, Jameson's cut-off levels are far lower than those set by the federal government for federal workplace drug-testing programs."
Her test came out "greater than 300 nanograms/mL" (300 parts per billion, or 000003 percent).
Federal guidelines consider a positive test for opiates to be 2000 nanograms/mL or greater, according to the complaint.
Mort's test result of 501 nanograms/mL is "well below the federal guidelines for a positive drug test, but entirely consistent with the amount of morphine expected to be found in a urine sample within hours of eating poppy seeds," the couple says.
They add that "LCCYS did not investigate in any manner whether plaintiff Mort's positive drug test could be a false positive due to plaintiff Mort's ingestion of certain foods or medicines" and that "Jameson did not inform plaintiff Mort's that it considered her initial UDS to be positive for the presence of opiates."
They add that their obstetrician was informed of the result of the test, but she did not tell them about it because "in her experience, many of the initial UDS tests come back as false positives," and because the expectant mother had consistently tested clean through the pregnancy, and the doctor did not think she was using drugs and did not want to frighten her as she went into labor and delivery.
Nonetheless, the new parents say, the hospital contacted the county's Children and Youth Services, though neither the hospital nor the county told them about it until the workers showed up with police to take their baby away.
They say the state forcibly seized their baby "without any justification," with no real investigation, and without even an interview. The distressed mom provided another urine sample at the hospital 2 hours after her baby was snatched, and it was clean, but she didn't get her baby back for 5 days.
They seek punitive damages, costs, declaratory judgment, and want the hospital and the county enjoined "from continuing their unlawful practice of violating the fundamental rights of parents to the care and custody of their children ... based solely upon a single positive drug test without any individualized suspicion of abuse or likelihood of abuse."
Their lead counsel is Sara Rose with the ACLU and Meyer, Unkovic & Scott.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.