New Mother’s (False) Positive Drug Test Leads to Baby’s Removal…Poppy-Seed Bagel the Culprit

We all have nightmares from which we awaken, in the middle of the night, wiping our brows and silently thanking a deity of one sort or another that it was all just a dream.

But for some, as absurd as the events may seem, the nightmare is real. 

The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of a couple, Elizabeth Mort and Alex Rodriguez, who experienced such a nightmare.

In April of this year, Elizabeth Mort gave birth to a beautiful baby girl; her first child. The baby’s name is Isabella. The threesome (Mort, Rodriguez and Isabella) returned home on April 29th, 2010, from Jameson Hospital where isabella was born, ready to settle into life as a family. One day later baby Isabella was taken from her parents by Lawrence County Child and Youth Services (LCCYS) and held for five days at an undisclosed location, because Mort had failed a drug test given to her while in the hospital.

Only, she wasn’t on drugs. Not even close.

Mort had eaten a poppy-seed bagel from Dunkin’ Donuts two hours prior to checking into the hospital before giving birth. The drug test picked up on the poppy seeds and came out positive. The agency, with two police officers present, acting on the information from the hospital-adminstered drug test, took Isabella from her parents. 

“When she was gone our family was just at a loss of words,” Mort said. “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.”

How did this happen?

Jameson Hospital, according to the lawsuit, tests all of its maternity patients for drugs despite the fact that neither federal nor state law requires it. The hospital also reports all positive drug tests to LCCYS though, again, this is not mandated by law.

Mort had no idea that her drug test had come back positive until her newborn was taken from her.  She was never asked, while in the hospital, whether she had eaten or taken anything that might interfere with a drug test. It was not until Mort’s husband began his own research, distraught at his newborn baby being taken away, did he find out independently that poppy-seeds in fact may influence a drug test.

The hospital did not interview Mort, did not speak with family or friends about Mort and whether there was cause for concern over her baby’s welfare; nor did the hospital speak with Mort’s obstetrician before authorizing LCCYS to seize the newborn accompanied by an (unannounced) police presence.

Though Mort was eventually cleared of any illegal drug use and Isabella was reunited with her family, the family is bringing a lawsuit against Jameson to stop the hospital from wreaking unnecessary havoc on other families who may be victimized by the irresponsible policies.

The lawsuit alleges not only that the hospital is responsible for the harm done to Mort, from taking away her baby, but that her rights were violated when the hospital allowed caseworkers to come in and take her baby without any evidence or reasonable suspicion for doing so, except for a positive drug test – which turned out not to be indicative of drugs anyway.

According to the ACLU,

“During one meeting between LCCYS and Mort, a caseworker admitted the agency had experienced problems with Jameson in the past and that it made a mistake by removing Isabella. The baby was returned to her parents on May 5, 2010. The following day, LCCYS filed a motion with the court saying “[a]fter further investigation, there is no evidence to support illegal drug use by the natural mother, Elizabeth Mort.”

The question of why Jameson Hospital has a policy of drug-testing all obstetrical patients and reporting all positive test to LCCYS, without clear goals for moving forward with the information, is central. Maternity patients may need to agree to the test, but are they agreeing to also be reported to a child welfare agency with a positive test? With no direct follow up first with the patient in question?  And to what end? Are these tests meant to ensure newborn safety or to help set the stage for further care for the woman – or both? Certainly, if health providers can help offer referrals and resources or support for people who are struggling with drug addiction, that may be helpful. But it’s a tremendous leap from a woman’s positive (potentially false) drug test to immediately removing a newborn from the home with absolutely no supporting evidence. Perhaps it’s not only the hospital, however, that needs to review its policies but the LCCYS as well. Over whose welfare are they watching if they are so quick to remove a newborn from her parents risking such a diastrous mistake?

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  • smjesq

    The totally insane absurdity of this situation is underscored by the realization that a similar drug-test-for-poppyseed-bagel screw up got Elaine fired in a Seinfeld episode many years ago.  I guess the nanny-police at this welfare agency didn’t watch Seinfeld, just as they also forgot to read the Constitution.  When life begins to sound like a cross between Kafka and Seinfeld, you have to just KNOW that something is really screwed up.  This comment is NOT to minimize the hell that this family went through for no reason whatsoever, but to demonstrate the high level of absurdity of the actions of the agency.

  • kmbbc

    I have an additional problem with this. Why is only the mother subject to drug testing? Why not the father? Why not anyone else who will be living in the household with the infant? Why is only the mother held accountable?


    Additionally, they robbed the mother of her right to breast feed her child for 5 days during the most important time for a baby to have breast milk. This is completely absurd.

  • juliejulie

    If mom lost breastfeeding time or was not able to breastfeed Isabella after her return because of this delay, ACLU should definitely up the ante in the law suit…there are dozens of known potential health problems throughout life, for mom and baby, that are reduced or eliminated by breastfeeding.  We need a serious rethink on taking babies from mother’s who could breast feed them.  There is no substitute for breastfeeding.  What an awful, scary incident.

  • crowepps

    The question of why Jameson Hospital has a policy of drug-testing all obstetrical patients and reporting all positive test to LCCYS, without clear goals for moving forward with the information, is central.

    It would be very interesting to see what Jameson Hospital’s policies are with regard to, just as a for-instance, men being brought into the ER drunk or with side-effects from using illegal drugs.  Since it’s well known that alcoholism and drug addiction has serious negative effects on children in the home, do they ask such men whether they live in a home with children and then report their families to LCCYS for investigation?


    Or is it just pregnant women who are PRESUMED to be dangerously ‘immoral’ and a risk to their children?


    I have a real problem with hospitals getting confused about whether they are providing ‘health care’ or taking it upon themselves to do law enforcement, particularly when they confuse the patients by not making it clear that test to which they are asked to consent is not for a legitimate medical purpose but rather is an attempt to get them to incriminate themselves.

  • dave-0

    Anesthesia and other procedures kill patients in significant numbers.  A patient who has taken almost any kinds of popular drugs (mostly commercial prescription types) could easily be over- anesthesized, under- ventilated or oxygenated, or experience many other medical complexities.  In that respect, the drug testing is probably a responsible thing to do IF TIME ALLOWS, and can guide treatment, IF PERFORMED BEFORE TREATMENT, with reliable results.  If they’re testing after treatment, or before treatment without the patient’s or a legal representative’s full understanding and consent, it’s mighty unlikely to be for the patients’ welfare, but rather as ammunition against malpractice accusations if the patient’s care has any of innumberable possible bad outcomes.


    The issue of informed consent at the hospital seems prominent here, almost as much so as LCCYS’s eagerness to seize and separate children from their parents inappropriately while not rescuing other children from truly abusive parents.


    I wonder whether these parents or their insurance company had to pay for their falsely incriminating labwork, or maybe it’s a bonus gratuity, cheerfully provided free of charge from the hospital, like a foil wrapped chocolate on each fresh pillow. 

  • crowepps

    A patient who has taken almost any kinds of popular drugs (mostly commercial prescription types) could easily be over- anesthesized, under- ventilated or oxygenated, or experience many other medical complexities. 

    This would be a very logical reason for routine drug testing, IF they were testing all of the patients where drug interactions might cause problems.  It is my understanding, however, that the ‘policy’ does not apply to every ER admission, every person who presents in an irrational manner, or to every person undergoing surgery, but instead applies only to pregnant women.

  • runningshoe
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  • cjs103

    Even if this woman did have a positive drug test. It is against her basic rights as a U.S. citizen. To take her child with evidence illegally taken. They had no Probable cause or a court order for a drug test. Is this what our country is comeing to we will be reported to big brother. The hospital did not even ask or tell her about this drug test. They have NO RIGHT to test her at all. I am sure there will be exception to that. Even if they had to test for drugs and found that she had been useing drugs, they should not be able by law to disclose the info. I would strongly agree that a pregnant woman should never use drugs. I hope she gets big bucks from the hospital and any goverment offices responsiable for her child being taken from her!!!! I think a million dollars per day her child was gone from her would be a fair settlement…. If this ever became law to drug test mothers, would create more woman not going to get help while pregnant. Leading to more problems with unborn children due to no prenatal care.