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Pregnant woman (2)

Many states have recently enacted laws to crack down on mothers who expose their unborn children to illicit substances, but the consumption of drugs and alcohol during pregnancy remains relatively common. As recently as 2012, nearly six percent of expectant mothers reported using illegal drugs during their pregnancy, along with another eight and a half percent who used alcohol. However, this same study revealed that many expectant mothers are highly successful in stopping drug or heavy alcohol use after they learn that they’re pregnant.

Unfortunately, states with draconian prenatal drug use laws can actually discourage women from seeking drug treatment during pregnancy by essentially placing them on a CPS watch list as soon as drug use is admitted. What can pregnant women do to minimize the risk of an intrusive and invasive civil process while still seeking the help they need to maintain their sobriety?

Prenatal Drug Use Laws

Because drug or heavy alcohol use during pregnancy may make the fetus vulnerable to a number of different health conditions after birth, state governments and public health departments track and enforce prenatal drug use laws.

In the states with strict prenatal drug use laws, any woman who tests positive for an illegal substance while pregnant (or who self-reports illegal drug or heavy alcohol use) may become the target of a child neglect case as soon as the baby is born. Other states with less strict prenatal drug use laws will institute a child neglect case only if the child, not the mother, tests positive for illegal substances.

Although some child neglect cases will be resolved quickly, especially with evidence that the mother stopped using drugs during her pregnancy, others can drag on for much longer. And even once a neglect case is closed, the mere existence of a substantiated neglect allegation can lead to the mother’s placement on a public, statewide registry. Women who are listed on a neglect registry can be blocked from working certain jobs and may even be barred from school events and field trips.

Seeking Drug Treatment While Pregnant

These prenatal drug use laws can leave expectant mothers feeling as though they have no good way out. Continuing to use drugs while pregnant is dangerous, while admitting to drug use in order to access help can risk entanglement in the child protective system. And for many drug users, secretly going cold turkey is not only difficult, but physically harmful. With these choices, what is an expectant mother to do?

Ultimately, the best option is to seek out a woman only inpatient drug rehab as early in your pregnancy as possible. Continuing to use illegal substances under the mistaken assumption that you won’t be caught could be disastrous for your child’s health. And trying to kick your addiction without extra help could leave you more vulnerable to a relapse. Instead, focus hard on recovery during your pregnancy so that you’re as prepared as possible to defend against potential neglect proceedings after your child’s birth.