Lawsuit says hospital reported new mothers to authorities over drug tests tripped by poppy seeds

·2 min read

In a new lawsuit, human rights groups say a hospital in New York reported two mothers to child services after they tested positive for drugs – but only because they’d recently eaten poppy seeds.

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union and National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the two women – referred to as Crystal H and Jane Doe – both gave birth at Garnet Health Medical Center in Middletown, New York. But instead of welcoming the women into motherhood, the hospital allegedly drug tested both of them “without consent” and then, when the tests came back positive, reported them to the State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment.

The reason, for Ms H, was a poppy seed bagel. For Ms Doe, it was a salad with poppy seed dressing. Heroin and other opiates are derived from poppy plants, whose seeds – though perfectly legal and safe to eat – can cause a false positive on drug urine tests.

“Garnet Health turned the joy of becoming a new mom into an absolute nightmare,” Ms H said in a statement. “Right after delivery, hospital staff didn’t permit me to nurse because of a false positive drug test result after having eaten a poppy seed bagel. Those bonding moments with my newborn are moments I will never get back.”

Ms Doe was furious as well.

“All because I ate a salad with poppy seed dressing, Garnet Health treated me like an unfit mother, told me I wasn’t allowed to breastfeed, repeatedly denied my requests for a confirmatory test, and ensured my name would be on the New York State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment,” she said.

Garnet Health told The Independent it was unable to comment.

The NYCLU and NAPW are now suing the hospital on the two women’s behalf. They argue that Garnet discriminated against both women on the basis of their gender and pregnancy, and caused “invasive searches of their homes by local child welfare authorities.”

But according to the lawsuit, it could have been even worse. Positive drug tests, the groups say, can unfairly cost a parent their job, housing, or even access to their child.

“No parent should ever endure what Crystal and her husband endured,” said Gabriella Larios of the NYCLU. “Non-consensual drug tests prioritize stigma over science and are a relic of racist War on Drugs myths.”

Emma Roth, an attorney at NAPW, said she hopes the case has wider consequences.

“We’re filing the complaint to shine a light on Garnet Health’s discriminatory practices and we hope other hospitals take notice,” Ms Roth said. “No new mother should ever face such traumatic and discriminatory treatment.”