Should Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs Be Punished?
The issue of drug use is fraught with stigma and strong opinions, but no topic causes such lightning rod reactions as pregnant women who use drugs or have drug-exposed newborns. Last week, North Carolina joined a growing list of states that have introduced or passed bills criminalizing pregnant women who use drugs, even punishing them with jail time if they don’t seek treatment. But while the intention behind these laws may be to deter pregnant women from using drugs, they often have the opposite effect, driving a resource-poor population away from treatment and towards behaviors that can further harm mothers and babies.
April W. of Durham, North Carolina, was seven months along with her third child before she realized she was pregnant. Immediately, she enrolled in a methadone treatment program where she was given a daily dose of methadone to control her cravings for heroin. But stigma made it hard to keep up with the program.