Think Prenatal Care, Not Jail, Doctors Urge 

Think Prenatal Care, Not Jail, Doctors Urge 
Posted by FoM on March 08, 2000 at 17:31:46 PT
By Donna Birch, Bee Staff Writer
Source: Modesto Bee
Women who use alcohol or drugs while pregnant should be sentenced to prenatal care, not to jail, say medical experts.  "You can take them out of their environment," said Dr. Milton Lee, a Los Angeles physician, "but the problem is ... what happens when they go back." 
 Lee and others who work with substance-using mothers and their children shared that anti-incarceration sentiment Tuesday at the 11th annual Families, Babies and Drug Conference in Modesto.  Health professionals made presentations to an audience of about 375 at the DoubleTree Hotel. The presenters included a Modesto family practice doctor who uses rap music to teach children about good health.  Speakers focused on topics relating to the use of drugs, tobacco and alcohol, and the short- and long-term effects on pregnant women, mothers and their children.  One recurring issue concerned whether to treat substance-abusing expectant mothers as criminals. It is a practice carried out in some courts across the country, and speakers at the Modesto conference said they believe it is a bad idea.  "Jail is a bad place for a pregnant woman to be," said bioethicist and attorney Lawrence Nelson, who gave a 90-minute presentation titled, "Unwise Public Policy: Criminalizing the Pregnant Substance Abuser."  Nelson outlined the problems he sees with jailing substance users:  * The practice is inconsistent. Women who smoke cigarettes or drink are rarely, if ever, punished, since tobacco and alcohol are legal. Of the 200 cases prosecuted in 30 states, all have involved illegal drugs.  "It's arbitrary," Nelson said. "How can we turn a blind eye to alcohol and nicotine?"  * Minorities make up a disproportionate number of the women who are prosecuted.  * To enforce it, health providers would have to turn in their patients. That in itself would discourage substance users from seeking medical care. "If they think they will get into trouble, they will get less prenatal care," Nelson said.  Instead of punishment, substance users need treatment. Lee said addicts who receive prenatal care while pregnant can improve their fetus' outcome after birth.  Other speakers were Susan Doctor, an associate professor at the University of Nevada at Reno, and Dr. John McCarthy of the University of California Medical Center in Sacramento.  Discussion also centered on fetal-alcohol syndrome, and the use of clinically prescribed methadone to help pregnant women addicted to opiates, such as heroin. Published: March 8, 2000Copyright  The Modesto Bee. Related Articles:Column: Drug Test Results for Hospital's Eyes Only Babies and Rights To Study Hospital's Role in Arresting Users 
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: