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Fetus Sues Mother -- Case Explores Rights of Fetus

Cocaine Addiction During Pregnancy

Story at-a-glance -

  • ‘The cocaine mom act’ in Wisconsin allows pregnant women engaging in substance abuse to be arrested or detained in order to protect the fetus
  • In one controversial case, a woman was arrested for refusing to take an anti-addiction drug even though she told her health care provider that she was over the addiction (to painkillers) – and urine tests supported her claims
  • A suit has now been filed on the woman’s behalf, claiming that her arrest and detainment in a treatment facility were in violation of constitutional rights and accepted medical standards
  • Painkiller addiction and related deaths have reached epidemic levels among US women, and the ‘solution’ to treat the problem with more drugs (anti-addiction drugs) is doing nothing to curb the problem

By Dr. Mercola

Several states, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oklahoma and South Dakota, have laws that allow pregnant women to be confined if authorities determine they are engaging in substance abuse.

The laws, dubbed 'the cocaine mom act' in Wisconsin, are intended to protect the unborn child, but in reality have raised considerable ethical concerns over the murky line between a woman's rights and the rights of her fetus.

One case, in particular, has made media headlines after one pregnant woman – Alicia Beltran of Wisconsin – was forcibly detained for refusing to take an anti-addiction drug after overcoming a painkiller addiction.

It's a case that once again highlights the growing problem with painkiller addictions and the disturbing trend of people being treated like criminals for making conscious medical decisions concerning their own bodies (and in this case the fetus inside)…

Taken in Handcuffs for Refusing an Anti-Addiction Drug

As the New York Times reported,1 Alicia was 14 weeks pregnant when, at a prenatal checkup, she told the practitioner that she had previously had an addiction to Percocet, a painkiller, but had overcome it on her own.

She used the widely prescribed anti-addiction drug Suboxone, which she obtained from a friend, and reportedly reduced the dosage over time until she had broken her dependency.

The physician assistant and a social worker suggested she still get a prescription for Suboxone to protect the fetus from withdrawal symptoms, but Alicia refused since she had already tapered off the drug.

A urine test confirmed her story, showing traces of Suboxone but no painkillers, as did later tests, which also came up negative for painkillers. Apparently, the practitioners still didn't believe her story, so days later county sheriffs surrounded Alicia's home and took her, in handcuffs, to a holding cell.

From there they forced her to go to a drug treatment center or face jail time, which she did but nevertheless lost her job in the process. Now, she tells the New York Times that she is 'terrified' that the authorities will come back after her baby is born…

Who Makes the Decision Over What Drugs You Take?

Most people would reply that they should be the ones to decide what drugs to take or not take (or give to their children). But this is the latest of an alarming trend where people have been threatened with jail for refusing to take certain medications, even though they have committed no crimes.

The issue of rights of a fetus versus the rights of its mother is a controversial one – and not one that I'm not trying to tackle here – however, in Alicia's case, assuming the facts are accurate, it appears to be another case of conventional medicine overstepping its bounds in a disturbing way.

Urine tests had cleared Alicia of painkiller use, yet she was still forcibly detained for refusing to take an anti-addiction drug. The fetus was certainly better off with its mother not taking Suboxone unnecessarily, as it can harm a fetus and poses significant risks for non-addicted persons who take it. According to the drug's Web site:2

"If you become pregnant while taking SUBOXONE, alert your doctor immediately as there may be significant risks to you and your baby; your baby may have symptoms of withdrawal at birth."  And: "Death has been reported in those who are not opioid dependent."

A suit has now been filed on Alicia's behalf, claiming that her arrest and detainment in a treatment facility were in violation of constitutional rights and accepted medical standards. Attorney Linda Vanden Heuvel, who is representing Alicia, explained:3

"Locking up Ms. Beltran, under the Wisconsin law, does not serve the best interests of Ms. Beltran's future child and most certainly tramples the rights of Ms. Beltran, a woman who was not in fact using any controlled substances at the time of her arrest and who is committed to having a healthy pregnancy."

Parents Also Threatened for Not Putting Their Kids on Drugs

Once your child is born, you can still be treated like a criminal, and in some cases sent to prison, for making a conscious decision to keep your child off drugs. The issue has become particularly controversial regarding psychiatric drugs, including those to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

While certain US states have already enacted legislation to protect against this very issue, and prevent schools and child protection officials from forcing parents to give their children drugs, it still happens more often than you might think.

 More and more, we're seeing courts siding with misguided government officials in closed family-court proceedings. Parents are increasingly cut out of the decision-making process about what's in their child's best interest with regard to their health.

And it's not only an issue in the US, either. Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) issued controversial draft guidelines last year that imply a child could be taken into protective custody if a parent refuses to give their child ADHD drugs.

In the case of Australia's NHMRC, the committee's guidelines were already mired with controversy, as its original chairman, Daryl Effron, reportedly resigned because he was affiliated with drug companies that produce ADHD drugs!

Some of you may also remember the 2009 controversy, where a federal arrest warrant was issued for Colleen Hauser after she and her 13-year old son Daniel left their home state to avoid chemotherapy treatment. Daniel had Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of cancer typically treated with chemo and radiation.

Their refusal to cooperate with the standard treatment for his condition led to a medical neglect petition, and a judge took custody away from his parents. It's hard to believe, but this case actually turned into an international manhunt with Interpol being notified, and U.S. Marshals being deployed to Mexico in search of this mother and her child, whose only crime was to say "No thank you" to the conventional medical treatment prescribed by Daniel's doctor!

Why Are So Many Women Addicted to Painkillers?

Getting back to the featured case, this is but one example of the epidemic of prescription painkiller addiction that is sweeping across the U.S. Alicia was lucky – she was able to overcome the addiction - but many are not.

Deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses are "skyrocketing" among women, according to a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that found such deaths have increased five-fold from 1999 to 2010.4 Nearly 50,000 such deaths occurred among women between that timeframe alone, and the statistics revealed by the CDC give a somber view of this growing problem:5

  • More than 6,600 women, or 18 women every day, died from a prescription painkiller overdose in 2010
  • There were four times more deaths among women from prescription painkiller overdose than for cocaine and heroin deaths combined in 2010
  • In 2010, there were more than 200,000 emergency department visits for opioid misuse or abuse among women -- about one every three minutes

The problem, once primarily seen in inner cities, is now spanning to rural areas, hitting people of all ethnic backgrounds and income levels. For women, a rise in single-parent households may be partly to blame. As the New York Times reported:6

"The rise of the single-parent household has thrust immense responsibility on women, who are not only mothers, but also, in many cases, primary breadwinners. Some who described feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities said they craved the numbness that drugs bring. Others said highs made them feel pretty, strong and productive, a welcome respite from the chaos of their lives."

Many people find themselves addicted to painkillers before they even realize what's happened, often after taking the drugs to recover from surgery or treat chronic back, or other, pain. The drugs work by binding to receptors in your brain to decrease the perception of pain. But they also create a temporary feeling of euphoria, followed by dysphoria, that can easily lead to physical dependence and addiction. This may drive some people to take larger doses in order to regain the euphoric effect, or escape the severe unhappiness caused by withdrawal. Others find they need to continue taking the drugs not only to reduce withdrawal symptoms but to simply feel normal.

Is Prescribing More Drugs Really the Answer?

Abusing prescription painkillers is clearly not in the best interest of a pregnant woman or her child. But is prescribing more drugs really the best solution? In Alicia's case, as described, she had reportedly already overcome the addiction, which makes her refusal to take Suboxone spot on. Ironically, Suboxone contains an opioid that can cause physical dependence with chronic use and may be abused in a manner similar to other opioids.7

Rather than focusing on the root of the problem, which in many cases is addressing the pain that's spurring painkiller use in the first place, drug makers are eager to promote their painkillers and their solutions to painkiller addiction, which typically involve even more drugs, such as Orexo AB, which is intended to block opiate receptors and help lessen dependence. Other studies are in the works to design painkillers that enter the brain slowly in order to reduce the euphoria that can lead to addiction.

Still other "solutions" involve pills with harder shells to hinder crushing, or which congeal when crushed so they can't be injected or snorted. Even adding unpleasant substances, such as soap or the hot-pepper ingredient capsaicin, has been discussed as a way to discourage overdoses.8

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been at the forefront, encouraging treatments that are less addictive… but again missing the irony that treating a drug problem with more drugs is in no way a long-term solution to this devastating problem, whether it occurs among a pregnant woman or anyone else.

The Best Way to Avoid Painkiller Addiction?

Many of those addicted to painkillers started taking the drugs not to get high, but to control pain – often back pain. The solution, then, is to avoid taking the drugs in the first place, an option many physicians neglect to offer to their pain patients. If you are suffering from pain, I suggest you work with a knowledgeable health care practitioner to determine what's really triggering your pain, and then address the underlying cause. If you have chronic pain, try these first, before even thinking about prescription painkillers of any kind.

  1. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which is a drug-free approach for pain management of all kinds. EFT borrows from the principles of acupuncture, in that it helps you balance out your subtle energy system. 
  2. It helps resolve underlying, often subconscious, negative emotions that may be exacerbating your physical pain. By stimulating (tapping) well-established acupuncture points with your fingertips, you rebalance your energy system, which tends to dissipate pain.

  3. Astaxanthin: One of the most effective fat-soluble antioxidants known. It has very potent anti-inflammatory properties and in many cases works far more effectively than anti-inflammatory drugs. Higher doses are typically required and one may need 8 mg or more per day to achieve this benefit.
  4. Ginger: This herb has potent anti-inflammatory activity and offers pain relief and stomach-settling properties. Fresh ginger works well steeped in boiling water as a tea or grated into vegetable juice.
  5. Curcumin: In a study of osteoarthritis patients, those who added 200 mg of curcumin a day to their treatment plan had reduced pain and increased mobility.9 A past study also found that a turmeric extract composed of curcuminoids blocked inflammatory pathways, effectively preventing the overproduction of a protein that triggers swelling and pain.
  6. Boswellia: Also known as boswellin or "Indian frankincense," this herb contains specific active anti-inflammatory ingredients. This is one of my personal favorites as I have seen it work well with many rheumatoid arthritis patients.
  7. Krill Oil: The omega-3 fats EPA and DHA contained in krill oil have been found by many animal and clinical studies to have anti-inflammatory properties that may be beneficial for pain.
  8. Bromelain: This enzyme, found in pineapples, is a natural anti-inflammatory. It can be taken in supplement form but eating fresh pineapple, including some of the bromelain-rich stem, may also be helpful.
  9. Cetyl Myristoleate (CMO): This oil, found in fish and dairy butter, acts as a "joint lubricant" and an anti-inflammatory. I have used this for myself to relieve ganglion cysts and a mild annoying carpal tunnel syndrome that pops up when I type too much on non-ergonomic keyboards. I used a topical preparation for this.
  10. Evening Primrose, Black Currant and Borage Oils: These contain the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is useful for treating arthritic pain.
  11. Cayenne Cream: Also called capsaicin cream, this spice comes from dried hot peppers. It alleviates pain by depleting the body's supply of substance P, a chemical component of nerve cells that transmits pain signals to your brain.
  12. Methods such as yoga, acupuncture, meditation, hot and cold packs, and even holding hands can also result in astonishing pain relief without any drugs.

Pregnant Women Should Be Especially Cautious of Using Medications

It's important to add that you need to be very careful when taking any drugs while you're pregnant. The nine months of development that take place in the womb are the most rapid and most vulnerable period of your baby's life. For this reason, it is generally best to avoid taking any medications unless absolutely necessary, including while you're trying to conceive, as you could become pregnant and not know it. Most medications have never been tested on pregnant women and their effects on a developing baby are completely unknown. Even the CDC acknowledges that very little is known about the impacts of most medications on unborn babies:10

"We do not have enough information about the effects of many medications when they are taken by pregnant women … All prescription and over-the-counter medications are tested to see if they are safe and effective before they become available to the public. Pregnant women usually are not included in these tests because of the possible risks to the unborn baby. As a result, little information is available about the safety of most medications during pregnancy—including those available over the counter—when they first become available."

So if you're pregnant, it's best to use extreme caution with medications and only use those that are absolutely necessary.