District Attorney Craig Ladd recognizes drug abuse in Carter County as a problem that has only gotten worse over the past few years. As such, his office has taken heightened measures to prosecute mothers who use controlled substances while pregnant.
The District Attorney’s office has prosecuted approximately 10 mothers in the past year for failure to properly accommodate the children they have carried. These cases demonstrate the office’s initiative to reduce the number of mothers who choose to use drugs during pregnancy.
“Even though the law, as it pertains to ‘child neglect,’ does not recognize a fetus as a child, we have taken the position that when newborn babies test positive for drugs, then proof of those positive tests establishes that the mother essentially neglected her newborn by her prior use of drugs while the baby was in utero,” Ladd said.
Ladd said he collaborates with the Department of Human Services and other county agencies in an effort to protect and rehabilitate vulnerable infants. An approach, he said, that isn’t shared among many other counties in Oklahoma.
“This aggressive approach is actually uncommon in most other counties in the state but reflects the commitment of our office and the Carter County Sheriff’s Department and the Ardmore Police Department in protecting perhaps the most vulnerable and defenseless segment of our population — children,” Ladd said.
These mothers typically face a separate court action based on allegations of drugs leaving babies legally “deprived” of proper care in addition to dealing with criminal charges, Ladd said.
In such cases, the mothers are required to complete individualized, court-approved service plans prepared by the Department of Human Services in an effort to further protect the babies.
Dr. Pam Kimbrough, MD, with Life’s Cycle Women’s Care in the Mercy Hospital network, said that while it may be possible to anticipate if a child will be born dependent upon drugs, doctors often might not know until birth.
“As a rule, providers may know about the possibility of a baby being born positive for drugs if, during the prenatal care for the mother, a drug screen had been positive on the mother,” Kimbrough said. “Otherwise, providers may not know until after the infant is born and tested, based on symptoms the infant exhibits and history of the mother.”
Kimbrough added these children may be difficult to nurture and care for after being born, requiring special care to help them.
“After birth, these babies are cared for in the usual manner, with the addition of treating symptoms of restlessness, agitation, jitteriness, etc., with comfort measures,” Kimbrough said. “It is frequent to have difficulty with feeding. For infants that are severely addicted, tertiary care centers will use Methadone to detox the baby.”
Officials in Carter County want to ensure that less babies need detox upon being born.
“We are confident that our aggressive approach will provide an incentive for pregnant women to abstain from the use of drugs and thus help protect children,” Ladd said. “At the very least, it will hold them accountable for this horrible practice of using drugs while they are pregnant.”