Pennsylvania mother eats poppy seed bagel, newborn baby seized

From Reason's Hit and Run:
201011111122 The ACLU of Pennsylvania recently filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of a couple whose newborn baby was kidnapped by Lawrence County Children and Youth Services (LCCYS) because her mother recklessly consumed an "everything" bagel from Dunkin' Donuts the day before the birth.

Jameson Hospital, where Isabella Rodriguez was born on April 27, has a policy of testing expectant mothers' urine for illegal drugs and reporting positive results to LCCYS, even without any additional evidence that the baby is in danger of neglect or abuse. LCCYS, in turn, has a policy of seizing such babies from their homes based on nothing more than the test result.

Unfortunately for Isabella's parents, Elizabeth Mort and Alex Rodriguez, Jameson sets the cutoff level for its opiate test so low that it can be triggered by poppy seeds, which is why two caseworkers and two Neshannock Township police officers visited their home the day after baby and mother returned from the hospital. LCCYS seized the three-day-old girl and put her in foster care for five days before conceding it had made a mistake.

Eat a Bagel, Lose Your Baby


  1. This is appalling. I have five daughters and I cannot imagine the horror of having a baby taken away at birth — for three days! OMFG, that is a CRITICAL bonding moment for mother and baby.

    I hate to sound cynical — perish the thought — but I somehow doubt this same standard is applied to wealthy moms, or baby daddies with a non-Rodriguez-sounding name … just sayin’ …

    1. The mother’s full name is Elizabeth Mort. (The father is Alez Rodriguez.) Hospital records for testing were dealing with a ginger-haired caucasian with that name. See above pic.

  2. Well if you don’t want to make the authorities suspicious I guess you shouldn’t be an interracial family in a county that’s 95% white.

    1. “95% white.” Where in the world do you get your statistics? Or was that meant to be funny and I missed it?

  3. The Republican’s only object to the nanny state when it hurts corporations. On the other hand, they love it when the nanny state hurts individuals, especially ones who aren’t rich.

    1. And not only hurting corporations: helping people, especially when it comes to direct financial aid to the unemployed or otherwise underprivileged.

      But then, I guess that only underscores your point: corporations view themselves as entitled to be the gifters of support (don’t you know they’re doing you a favor paying you on Fridays?) and distributors of largesse. If it comes directly from the government it subverts the corporate stranglehold. Not to mention putting upward pressure on wages.

  4. If you’re looking hard enough for terrorists, then you’ll find them everyplace. Same with drug abusers. When enough evildoers have been caught and punished, the world will finally be good/empty.

  5. When I was in high school my girlfriend was subject to nearly weekly, semi-random drug tests by her doctor father. She made the mistake of consuming a poppy seed muffin from the hospital cafeteria prior to the test and a domino effect of panic began when she tested positive for opiates. Had her father not been present while said muffin was being eaten, she probably would have been carted off to rehab in a white van shortly thereafter.

  6. Well, sounds like they’ll get quite the nice baby shower gift from the LCCYS in the form of a lawsuit settlement check. Maybe they’ll make the opiate test a scotch less sensitive after this.

  7. My mother was in chemotherapy when her employer did a random drug screening. She told the person collecting samples that she was on a bevy of medications, they seemed to make a note.

    A week later my mother, who never even drank, was in her boss’ office being asked how long she had been using Heroin and a whole host of other illegal drugs.

    A phone call to one, very irate, oncologist later, and it was facepalm all around.

    I’m glad the hospital does medical screenings. But following those screenings up with common sense questions and reasonable inquiry, not unleashing the bureaucratic nightmare machine, is the way to go.

    1. My mother was in chemotherapy when her employer did a random drug screening.

      Where was she employed? In a penal colony in Singapore?

  8. Is it really ridiculously low? Parolees are warned to stay away from poppy seeds or risk failing drug tests. Drug tests for workers at nuclear reactors register the opiates from eating a poppy seed bagel. There are other examples as well out there. Now, granted, this is crazy for this situation, but it’s not unknown that poppy seeds can cause false positives.

    1. Yes, it’s ridiculously low. That’s why the federal standards were changed — too many false positives were making the tests useless (and easy to beat in court even with true positives). Thus they were raised to 1000-2000 nL/mL, and in addition, a secondary test (for different enzymes or something like that) is done to ensure that it’s really morphine, not poppy seeds.

      There is tons of info on drug tests online for anyone that wants to investigate the specifics.

  9. IAAL who regularly represents parents and children after removal by the Dept. of Social Services. It seems that the policies of our DSS are moving toward removal first, and then investigation later. In the majority of cases the suspicions are founded, however, the removals are devastating for the families regardless of the culpability of the parents. Unfortunately, the alternatives to removal are often both more time consuming and expensive and there is often not money or manpower available. Local departments have also been burned in the media and courts for not doing more protection and investigation in some cases where children have been neglected and/or abused by families that at first glance seem happy and functional.

  10. What happened to HIPPA?

    This is beyond the scope of any kind of medical treatment that one could reasonably expect from a medical facility.

    Isn’t this the same type of false positive situation that we saw in the beginning of the drug testing scam?

  11. too bad they didnt heed this simple advice. DO NOT EVER LET A COP INTO YOUR HOUSE. PERIOD.

    ok this montague person is a criminal, and the police were accessories, but what were the parents thinking to hand over their baby? a uniform and some official papers? irreversible harm. my kids know if anyone tries to kidnap them I will use deadly force to protect them. they are more likely to be harmed by police than by a “stranger”

    1. too bad they didnt heed this simple advice. DO NOT EVER LET A COP INTO YOUR HOUSE. PERIOD.

      Bears repeating. Also reasonable to ensure that there are no open sightlines into your living space.

  12. So now, every expecting set of parents will read about this assholish policy at Jameson hospital and go somewhere else to have their babies. Good.

  13. I’ve never used an illegal drug in my life. In college I was offered a sweet job and had to do a drug test, which I failed. The only culprit was the poppy seed bagel I’d eaten a couple hours before the test. I protested, but ultimately lost the position.

  14. There’s no reason to test the routinely test the urine of a laboring woman for illegal drugs–none at all. The testing was a violation of privacy.

    1. Whoa now.

      You don’t want the hospital to know if a mother is on something that could, say, seriously impact her perception of pain, alter her response to the various drugs that are often given during labor, or otherwise impact the course of normal labor?

      Yes, it’s reasonable to test for drugs, for purely medical reasons.

      No, it’s not reasonable to do anything with that test beyond informing therapeutic decisions.

  15. Seems to me such a policy discourages mothers from going to the hospital to deliver.

    Its not that hard to set the cutoff such that failure due to poppy seeds is an extreme improbability. You might lose a day of detection, but that hardly matters in detecting addicts.

  16. WOW, so it’s not really a question of “Will they win a lawsuit?” Rather it is “how many zeroes will be on the back of that number on said check?”


  17. So what if a woman refused the drug tests? Would they kick her out of the hospital? My understanding is that you can refuse medical treatment if you want to.

  18. This is what happens when people don’t understand the difference between a screening test and a proper investigation. A positive screen result should always be followed by a more comprehension investigation. Screening tests are not meant to provide a definite answer to a question, merely flag people to move into the next level of assessment. Surely the intention of testing mothers is to find those who may have a drug problem and to provide appropriate assistance (although in this case appropriate assistance seems to be interpreted as having you child taken away – which I would argue is not appropriate assistance). If this is the case then the hospital is not performing their task in order to fulfill this intention and have therefore failed.

  19. This was absolutely ridiculous! How in the world can they possibly justify taking a child for something like this! It was a SCREENING test not an advanced drug test! There better be a WHOLE LOT of money heading the way of this family!

  20. I’m a lawyer who spends a good chunk of my practice defending parents who have their kids taken away in California.

    Mainstream Republicans are totally in favor of the nanny state.

    This country is much less than 95% white.

    @Mark Frauenfelder in reply to Gutierrez
    You are quite right.

    @ Anon who said “WOW, so it’s not really a question of “Will they win a lawsuit?” Rather it is “how many zeroes will be on the back of that number on said check?””

    Not at all. These days, many, many people in your life are mandated reporters. Modern tort law is set up to provide livings to trial lawyers (God or the spaghetti monster bless them — some of my best friends….). Mandated reporters are not the trial lawyers’ enemies — just the opposite. More accusations of child abuse means more people to sue. Trial lawyers are not stupid enough to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

  21. holly mother of Isis what is this world coming to this is just one of the biggest jokes ever.
    Sharon Australia

  22. Yet another win for the asshats of the world. What’s the score now, like 15354646534354354 to 2? IHTFP, sometimes.

  23. Ah, oops, I read “County” as “countRy”, sorry about that. Now your comment makes a hell of a lot more sense, factually.

    1. I thought that might be the case, I never heard anyone question the overwhelming whiteness of Pennsylvania before.

  24. i believe health care professionals are bound by law to report when they feel a child might be in jeopardy. a positive for opiates while pregnant without prescription is indicative of drug abuse.

    1. “a positive for opiates while pregnant without prescription is indicative of drug abuse.”

      Apparently no, it isn’t. If a bagel can trigger a false positive, than relying on it as sufficient evidence to seize a baby is unconscionable. A sign that some investigation is in order, perhaps, but not putting a baby in foster care!

  25. remember when it was illegal for people to just invade your privacy with random, unsanctioned drug tests? i miss those days…

  26. Anyone on a U.S. National Team / Olympic Team will never eat poppy seeds for that reason.
    I was randomly drug tested for about 10 years during my athletic career by the USADA and what came before it.
    All the athletes knew that this could produce a positive.

  27. This is the way of our system. They make mistakes all the time, harming families. They have so many excuses for their behavior, like: “we are underpaid, over-worked, ETC…” and DHS, DCFS, or whatever the name of the baby-snatchers in your community may be, the fact remains the same: THEY HAVE TOO MUCH POWER AND NOT ENOUGH CONSEQUENCES FOR THEIR ACTIONS! Seems to me, they do prey on the poor and as well, they’re under-trained and have no real qualifications to begin with. Many of these ‘caseworkers’ are odd people and you can spot that after meeting them just once. Many have chips on their shoulders or have been in some sort of abusive, neglectful, molestation, or some sort of family dysfunction themselves and they burst into homes seeking “witches” and burning them to find out if they are really witches.

    Something has to be done about the extremely low standards common of the people given the power to remove our children from our homes! It like having a dysfunction, biased, uniformed, previously victimized, secret agenda carrying barbarian out to get back at the world for dealing them a bad hand, bursting into your home and taking it out on YOUR family!! They think every man is rapist, every child is abused, every parent is neglectful, every thing they WANT to see, they DO! Many cases, they MAKE people into these by misconstruing facts and coercing witnesses who are probably your families enemies to begin with!

    They feed off the pleasure of removing your children and watching you tremble at the fact there is nothing you can do about it. Power trips, bad intentions, and horrible scrutinizing of caseworkers and staff is just common place with these people.

    I mean, they get paid next to nothing, they have little of any education, and they have to be partially crazy to even take a job with the workload and lack of pay they receive. We are destroying families all over the world on the ‘hunches’ of low-class, misinformed, uneducated, depraved human beings.

    The saying goes, “You get what you pay for!” Well, these people that can steal you children aren’t getting paid squat and they’ll accept just about anyone crazy enough to take the job! We need to pay these caseworkers WAY MORE than they are getting paid so that decent human beings will consider these jobs, instead of the monsters we are empowering. Not all of them are monsters, but c’mon… we all know people, and most people don’t want the headache you get verses the lack of pay they receive. TAKE AWAY THE POWER OF THE BABY STEALING IDIOTS WHO ARE CONTROLLING THE POOR!!

  28. I am a medical doctor, with a fair number of patients with drug addiction issues. There’s a right way to use urine drug screening in medical care. This is not it.

    jsh1972: “a positive for opiates while pregnant without prescription is indicative of drug abuse.”
    No it isn’t. Why would you say this?

    A positive test for opiates indicates NOTHING except a positive test for opiates. It may raise or support suspicions of drug abuse, but there are many other reasons for a positive screen.

    There are quite a few nonprescription drugs which can be easily and legally purchased and which contain small amounts of codeine (tylenol #1, etc). No problem with most of these in pregnancy, either. And as we’ve just seen, a bagel does not indicate drug abuse. Hell, I had a poppyseed-filled roll yesterday and I bet I’d screen positive on some assays for opiates.

    If this story is true, it’s monstrous, and the only good side is she’ll have no trouble affording to send her kid to the university of its choice later on. I wish her lawyers the very best. I do say IF this is true, because it strikes me as so preposterous. What proportion of women who have just delivered a baby will screen positive for opioids? ANY OF THEM who were given narcotics in early labour for pain control, any of them who might have been taking tylenol and codeine for back pain before the onset of labour.

  29. this is ridiculous how can they just take this child without investigating the whole
    situation completely. this lady just has her baby and they take it without compassion
    ignoring that it could be a misunderstanding its like the cops that shoot now and
    ask questions later after they have made a mistake they think that they can come back later
    and say “I’m sorry here is your baby back” no that is BS and these people should place a lawsuit
    on these jerks and have them fired they should of had to investigate this case more but
    what they did was wrong in my opinion.

  30. Our whole “family court” system is a travesty. All proceedings are secret, constitutional rights are thrown out the door, outrageous requirements are put on family members (ie, many fathers lose their jobs because they have to go to so many court hearings, etc.)

    It’s rather shocking how little is known about this whole system.

    Highly recommend the book “Taken Into Custody”. Look it up on Amazon. It’s eye opening.

    From a review: “Family courts in America and other democracies have almost absolute power to take away people’s children without giving any reason, confiscate their property, and incarcerate them without trial, charge, or counsel. These courts operate largely in secret.”

  31. What if she had been taking opium by prescription? Sure, such a thing probably doesn’t exist, but what if? Would they have taken her baby away then?

  32. I smell the smell of a buck being passed, frequently, vigorously, whilst wrapped about a hot potato.

    Smells remarkably like stupidity.

  33. Huh. Damaging the mother-child-bonding process by intent?

    And that’s not counted as a criminal act?

    I’m pretty sure that it would count as Körperverletzung (bodily harm) over here.

  34. Yes, this story is a nonsense, but the problem is far deeper than that, which is that “social work” is a lose-lose profession. Fail to protect a kid and you are demonised. Take a kid away wrongly and you are demonised. Frankly, you would have to be mad to want to work in such a field. (To link to a thread elsewhere, it’s like wanting to be a primary school teacher when you are a man. It’s just not worth it.)

    I am in no way defending this particular farrago, as it’s clear that some tules were completely misunderstood somewhere along the line, but I’m perhaps more surprised that it doesn’t happen more often.

  35. We continually had to sort through poppy-seed roll and bagel positive hits with folks in our National Guard unit when we had random “whiz quizzes.” We’d sometimes have 20% have to retest 30-45 days later; almost all would come out clean.

  36. Home birth with midwife is the way to go. You have a personal relationship with your caregiver, and she is working for your and your baby’s interest, not for some other institution that has an ambivalent attitude toward the parents.

  37. How come I have never heard anyone propose that maybe we need BETTER TESTS. I know enough chemistry to know it isn’t really that simple, but still, given how often this specific problem happens it seems like it would be worth the trouble.

    As to anyone who’s enthused about the parents getting a massive payday… I only wish it were that simple. A friend of mine has been attempting to sue the state of Michigan for when they took her son, and he was BEATEN TO DEATH in foster care. It’s basically been 10 years of the state saying “We’re the government, you’re not allowed to sue us, unless we give you permission to sue us, which we don’t.” This is even with the most ferocious lawyer in the state (if you’re from Michigan, you know who I’m referring to) working for my friend.

    Just another way the government fucks you.

  38. This report

    gives more detail. Including just how ridiculously low their tolerances were. “According to the hospital’s policy, a screen is considered positive for opiates at 300 nanograms/​mL or above. Federal work-​​place guide­lines, in contrast, are set at 2000 nanograms/​mL to avoid false positives from common foods and medicines.”

    Other questions asked above are also answered. Unfortunately, it only gets worse. The family is suing both the hospital and LCCYS through the ACLU.

Comments are closed.