Hackensack and Voorhees: Poppy Seed Bagels Lead To False Positive Drug Tests

Source: New Jersey Monitor

Two women have filed civil rights complaints against hospitals in Hackensack and Voorhees, alleging workers drug-tested them without their knowledge or consent after they went there to give birth.

The tests resulted in false positives that prompted both hospitals to alert child welfare authorities, who then monitored each family for months even though there was no evidence of drug use or other wrongdoing, according to separate complaints filed last week.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) represents both women in the complaints filed with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights against Hackensack University Medical Center and Virtua Voorhees Hospital.

In Hackensack, medical staff tested Kate L.’s urine when she arrived last September to give birth to her first child, a test she thought was like countless others she’d gotten during her pregnancy to test for proteins and nutritional deficiencies. Instead, the staff tested it for drugs without her consent — and when it came back positive, didn’t tell her until four days afterward, according to her complaint.

In Voorhees, staff tested Kaitlin K.’s urine when she went into labor with her second child last October, and she also thought the test was a routine screen for proteins. Staff waited a full day before telling her it came back positive for opiates, her complaint says.

In both cases, the women had eaten poppy seed bagels before going to the hospital, resulting in false-positive results. According to Molly Linhorst, an ACLU-NJ staff attorney:

“This could be happening in hospitals across the state. And it creates this pipeline into invasive, unnecessary state investigations that are really traumatic for the people who experience them, especially when they just gave birth.”

In New Jersey, Michigan, and other states, parents have also challenged hospitals’ common practice of extracting newborns’ blood for disease screening, saying they weren’t informed that the states subsequently store and use that blood for purposes beyond disease detection, such as for-profit research and crime investigation.

Beyond consent, though, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists rejected drug-testing laboring moms’ urine because of the potential for false positives and legal upheaval. But it’s unclear if Hackensack and Virtua test all laboring mothers — or even all patients — for drugs or just a select few.

“My OB-GYN said to me that this sometimes happens to women of color,” Kate L. said. She also wonders if her many tattoos drove the decision to drug test her.

Kate L. hopes her fight will force hospitals statewide to reexamine their testing and reporting policies so that other women are spared the stress, shame, and shock that has rocked her first few months of motherhood.

Spokespeople at both hospitals said they were unaware of the complaints and couldn’t immediately comment.

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