A woman who temporarily lost custody of her newborn baby because she failed a hospital-mandated drug test after eating a poppy seed bagel won a huge settlement from Pennsylvania child welfare services and her hospital on Tuesday.
Just before going into labor in April 2010, Elizabeth Mort ate a poppy seed bagel. Poppy seed bagels can trigger a false positive in drug tests with low thresholds for opiate detection, which is why federal standards set the minimum detection rate at 2,000 nanograms per milliliter. Unfortunately for Mort, Jameson Hospital’s drug test, which they gave to Mort either shortly before or after her daughter’s birth, uses a minimum of 300 nanograms.
Mort failed the drug test, testing positive for opiates/bagels, but, for reasons that aren’t clear, the hospital didn’t notify her. Instead, officials from the hospital went straight to child welfare services in Pennsylvania.
Three days later, Mort was at home with her newborn daughter, Isabella — and still unaware that she’d failed a drug test — when child service officials arrived with an emergency protective custody order. The officials took Isabella from her mother and didn’t return her for five days, after they found no evidence that Mort had used any sort of illegal drugs.
In October 2010, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mort.
“Elizabeth Mort never imagined that the last thing she ate before giving birth to her daughter – a poppy seed bagel – would lead to the loss of her newborn, but that is exactly what happened after the Jameson Health System failed to account for the possibility that her positive urine drug screen was due to her ingestion of poppy seeds,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit was settled on Tuesday, and Mort was awarded over $143,000.
“We hope that this case will encourage hospitals that routinely test pregnant women for drug use to reconsider that practice due to the harm that can result from false positives,” said ACLU lawyer Sara Rose.