Kentucky is one of only four states that conduct drug testing for both the mother and the baby if a healthcare provider suspects drug use because it’s considered child abuse when a baby is born with drugs in their system in Kentucky. This HB1 law took effect in Kentucky in July 2018.
In the state, 1.5 out of every 100 babies are born withdrawing from drugs (medically called neonatal abstinence syndrome).
What is required for a hospital to order a drug test for a newborn in Kentucky?
The ANGELS Neonatal Guidelines for conducting a drug test on a newborn or pregnant mother include:
- History of maternal drug use or agitated/altered mental status in the mother
- No prenatal care
- Unexplained separation of the uterus and placenta before childbirth (placental abruption)
- Unexplained complications in the newborn’s central nervous system (e.g. seizures, brain hemorrhages)
- Symptoms of drug withdrawal in the newborn (abnormal rapid breathing, tightened muscles, excessive stooling)
- Changes in the behavioral state of the newborn (jittery, fussy, lethargic)
What happens if a baby tests positive for drugs in their system in Kentucky?
Because it is ruled as child abuse, mothers who birth babies addicted to drugs are given two options – get professional addiction treatment within 90 days of the baby’s birth or have their parental rights taken away. When parental rights are removed, it does not automatically result in the removal of the baby from the mother’s custody. The issue goes to family court.
What is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)?
NAS is a group of conditions caused when a baby withdraws from drugs due to exposure in the womb. The symptoms are similar to adult withdrawal symptoms, but with serious potential for life long issues.
What are the symptoms of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?
- Tight muscle tone (hypertonicity)
- Abnormally rapid breathing (tachypnea)
- Problems sleeping
- Excessive yawning
- Poor feeding or sucking
- Stuffy nose
The symptoms that a newborn with NAS experiences depend on the type of drug(s) that the mother was abusing and their gestational age at birth.
What are the long-term consequences of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)?
Some babies go on to live full, healthy lives free of health complications despite having NAS at birth. Many other babies experience chronic issues associated with this condition, such as:
- Increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Developmental delays
- Motor problems related to the bones and muscles and the function of them
- Behavioral problems
- Learning problems
- Complications with vision
- Regular ear infections
- Problems sleeping
It is often misconstrued just how serious neonatal abstinence syndrome is both in the moment and over time.
How are drug tests conducted on newborns in 2020?
To test a newborn baby suspected of having NAS, their meconium or urine is tested to determine what type or combination of substances are in their system. A simple urine test is usually also given to the mother. If test results come back positive, treatment begins to keep the newborn as comfortable as possible during withdrawal.
As of 2020, most hospitals in Kentucky still use risk-based testing. This means doctors only order a drug test on the baby when they suspect the mother is using drugs. However, universal testing is becoming more popular since the opioid epidemic increased the number of babies born addicted.
What if I’m pregnant and I need help with addiction?
Get help! You and your baby are so much better off in treatment – even if you already used drugs while pregnant. Detoxing cold turkey could put you and your baby at risk and Suboxone can be an option even while pregnant.
JourneyPure has a Bowling Green Rehab that serves those addicted to alcohol or drugs across Kentucky. The center is medically equipped and regionally recognized for treating pregnant women.
We also partner with a sober living called Baby Steps to stay sober in the first months of motherhood. (Baby Steps is across the border in Tennessee).