Mom settles for $143,000 after infant taken away over faulty drug test

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, July 3, 2013 10:14 EDT
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[" Happy Mother With Her Baby" on Shutterstock]
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A Pennsylvania woman whose infant daughter was taken away from her by state authorities when she was just three days old, all due to a false positive on a drug test, won a $143,500 settlement Tuesday.

The lawsuit (PDF), filed in 2010 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, alleged that a drug test she and her child were unknowingly subjected to came back positive for opiates because she ate an “Everything” bagel hours before giving birth.

The bagels, coated with seeds of poppy, sesame and caraway, has been known to trigger false positives for opiates on urine analysis tests — there was even an episode of Discovery’s “Mythbusters” dedicated to the topic.

That carb-heavy treat turned into a genuine nightmare for Elizabeth Mort, who had her infant daughter Isabella literally taken out of her arms at her home days after returning from the hospital, all authorized by an emergency protective custody order.

Mort was shocked, not knowing that she failed a drug test in the hospital, and pleaded for more information. An official with the Lawrence County Children and Youth Services informed her of the drug test, saying she had “opiates” in her system.

“The best thing in my life had been taken from me and there was nothing I could do to get her back,” she told the ACLU. “When she was gone our family was just at a loss of words. My dad wouldn’t stop researching [what causes false positives]. 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 alarm would go off when it was her feeding time, and I burst crying every single time. The most important person was missing and we didn’t know when we would see her again.”

Her child was returned several days later, and authorities admitted there was never any hard evidence that Mort had ingested illegal drugs. “We hope that this case will encourage hospitals that routinely test pregnant women for drug use to reconsider that practice due to the harm that can result from false positives,” ACLU attorney Sara Rose told The Associated Press.

Opponents of common urine analysis tests used by hospitals, law enforcement and many prospective employers say they are incredibly easy to beat with simple countermeasures and produce far too many false positives.

Critics of the tests include the authors of a study published last August in the journal Clinical Chemistry, who argued that hospitals should use much more sensitive drug testing on infants before making an decisions about protective custody. The tests are particularly sensitive to false positives indicating marijuana use, and can be triggered by chemicals commonly used in baby shampoo, among hundreds of other consumer products.

["Stock photo: A mother kissing her baby," via Shutterstock.]

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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