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Doctors seek to end stigma for pregnant drug abusers

By Guttz, Feb 24, 2012 | |
  1. Guttz
    DENVER - When a pregnant woman abuses drugs, it can have all kinds of horrible consequences when the child is born. It can also have legal consequences for the mother, but some lawmakers want to protect expectant mothers from the results of their drug tests.

    The idea behind keeping test results private is to make sure women don't avoid the doctor's office because of a fear of criminal prosecution.

    Doctors say there's not a trend of drug test results being used in court against expectant moms in Colorado, but other states have cracked down on the problem as a criminal matter as a way of standing up for the rights of unborn children.

    That raises the debate over when human life begins, but any way you view that, doctors stress that it doesn't help the unborn child to make the mother afraid of the law.

    "She's not going to come in," Dr. Josh Kopelman, who has a private OB/GYN practice, said. "Neither she nor the baby is going to get an opportunity to treat and prevent the complications that can be caused by these drugs."

    To counter that fear, a bill working its way through the Colorado legislature would make drug test results inadmissible in criminal court if they are given to a pregnant woman by her doctor.

    Illegal drugs are just part of the problem.

    A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment report estimated that of the 66,000 babies born in Colorado in 2010, 17 percent were exposed to tobacco, 12 percent to alcohol, 6 percent to prescription drug abuse, and 4 percent to illicit drugs.

    There are treatment programs to help with all of those substances.

    "If they simply come in and are frank with us about the problem we can help them," Kopelman said.

    Very few women seek that help when it comes to illegal drugs, in part because of the stigma.

    Sen. Irene Aguilar (D-Denver), who has a medical practice, says we should all be a little more compassionate.

    "It's hard not to be judgmental when you see someone making bad choices that are harmful to themselves or in this case to an unborn child," Aguilar said. "But any person who's a smoker can tell you how hard it is when you have a real addiction to let go of it."

    She argues her bill is just another step toward treating addiction like the disease it is.

    HB 1100 cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee with a unanimous vote and now heads to the full Senate. It already cleared the House of Representatives.

    Written by
    Brandon Rittiman
    6:58 PM, Feb 20, 2012


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