The Tragic Personal Cost of our War on Drugs

By now, most reasonable people would agree that our nation’s War On Drugs has been a dismal failure. This “war” has sent incarceration rates skyrocketing, victimized millions of young people with zero violent tendencies, and criminalized medical patients coast to coast suffering with AIDS, cancer and chronic pain. The costs have been exorbitant, the gains few and fleeting. The true beneficiaries of this war are the politicians who earn machismo points for trumpeting “zero tolerance” laws to grab further enforcement funding.

One personal cost that doesn’t always earn as much press, however, is the way our War On Drugs can tear families apart.

Recently I read a story that helped crystallize some of these points. A mother in Pennsylvania had her newborn daughter taken away from her by caseworkers and police when the infant was just three days old. The cause? A poppyseed muffin. Yes, it seems the mother, Elizabeth Mort, popped a false positive on a hospital drug test because she ate an offending muffin earlier in the week.

Let’s take a few points in order here. First, there is the insanity of what actually happened. This particular hospital has a standing written policy to drug test all new mothers. This may make sense to you, or it may not. (See below.) Either way, what happened next was simply Orwellian – hospital staff, upon seeing a false positive at an astonishingly low level, promptly reported the mother to Lawrence County Children & Youth Services. The staff did this without telling Ms. Mort about her test results, without asking her any questions, and without so much as an interview to be sure they understood the circumstances. Needless to say, this was a gross violation of Ms. Mort’s rights as a new parent.

But the larger point is that the policy itself is deeply flawed. Of course nobody wants a truly stricken heroin junkie to take a child home from the hospital. But the mere presence of any drugs in the system, including marijuana, is apparently enough to set the wheels in motion. This despite the fact that there is no data that suggests that anyone who has ever taken drugs is unfit to be a parent. The fact is that not all addicts are abusive parents. When compared to foster care, there is some value to the notion that many addicts may be able to effectively shield their children from the chaos of that narcotic burden while they seek treatment. Practices such as these are completely antithetical to the cause of reasonable drug policy, and the laws that support them deserve aggressive criminal drug attorneys on the other side of the ledger.

One final excellent point from the article:

And a mother who is actually on drugs and is aware of Jameson’s practice of reporting mothers to child protective services based on one failed test? She’s much less likely now to seek any prenatal care for her unborn baby, making the policy extremely counterproductive if the goal is to protect a child’s life and not simply to sell some drug tests and provide an excuse for the local child services bureaucracy to demand more funding.

Revising our nation’s absurd policy on drugs is an idea that spans the political spectrum. Left-leaning people want to ease the burden on at-risk kids who are being thrown in jail for victimless crimes. Conservatives and libertarians rightly see “war” is an expensive encroachment on our privacy, our agency, and our free will. I work hard to defend the victims of our nation’s War On Drugs because Texas drug criminal defense is what I know best, but make no mistake: there are plenty of families out there getting no help at all.