published Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Mom sues after failed drug test over poppy seeds

PITTSBURGH — A first-time mother who says she failed a drug test while in labor because she ate poppy seeds has sued a Pittsburgh hospital, saying officials defamed her and violated her doctor-patient confidentiality by sharing the results with a child welfare agency.

Rachael Devore, 31, who gave birth at Magee-Women's Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center on June 24, contends in her lawsuit that the hospital staff tested her urine while she was in labor and then turned over the "positive" drug test to county caseworkers.

"I just delivered and it's supposed to be this beautiful, wonderful, happy time and I'm being accused of something that's completely ridiculous," Devore told The Associated Press. "To be accused of physically and purposely harming your child is a very tough accusation to swallow."

A UPMC spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Opiates like heroin are made from poppies, which is why the seeds can result in false positives on drug tests. But Devore said she didn't realize what prompted the failed drug test until weeks later — when she bought the same kind of bread she had eaten ate the day before she went into labor and saw poppy seeds when she sliced into it.

Last year, another Pennsylvania woman settled a lawsuit with Jameson Hospital in New Castle for $143,500, after a county child welfare worker seized the woman's newborn in 2010 after that mother also tested positive for drugs after eating a poppy seed bagel.

Devore's attorney, Margaret Coleman, said there were no medical reasons to test Devore for drugs, saying she was a "model" patient. And when the urine sample came back as an "unconfirmed positive" the results even included the disclaimer "These results are to be used only for medical purposes. Unconfirmed screening results must not be used for non-medical purposes (e.g. employment testing, legal testing)," the lawsuit stated.

Except that's exactly what UPMC did, Devore claims, when they referred her case to Allegheny County's Office of Children, Youth and Families.

Within hours of her daughter's birth, a nurse took a urine sample from the child who was monitored for withdrawal symptoms. The next day, a hospital social worker interrupted Devore while breastfeeding "and demanded information about her alleged drug use."

Devore told the social worker she didn't use drugs and, although their daughter's tests were also negative, the hospital social worker still referred the case to CYF as Devore and the baby were being discharged June 26.

A CYF caseworker visited the Devores later that day, and scheduled a July 5 inspection of their home. A CYF investigator referred the case to a drug addiction counselor and required Devore to sign a "safety plan" acknowledging she'd surrender her parental rights to her husband if she did drugs again.

CYF workers inspected the home repeatedly in the coming weeks, and the drug counselor told Devore she planned to recommend future random drug tests, even after Devore passed another urine test. Eventually, the CYF investigator opted not to require the drug tests, though the agency has yet to send Devore a letter confirming her case has been closed. The agency doesn't comment publicly on child welfare cases.

"The Devores are very, very fortunate that CYF didn't take their baby away and UPMC knows that risk exists whenever they make one of these reports," Coleman said.

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