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The Government’s Involvement in Prenatal Drug Testing May Be Toxic


In 25 U.S. states, healthcare professionals are mandated to report pregnant people for substance use to child protection service (CPS) agencies. This practice is not evidence-based, and we believe it harms the patient-provider relationship, opposes reproductive autonomy, and contributes to racial disparities in CPS referrals and their outcomes. Black patients are more often screened and reported than white patients for prenatal substance use; besides the impact on their obstetric care, this may be a barrier to seeking treatment for substance use disorders. Furthermore, strict, punitive state-level policies are associated with greater odds of neonatal abstinence syndrome. The treatment of substance use disorders in pregnancy under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act opposes robust evidence understanding substance use disorders as chronic illnesses. Among non-pregnant people seeking healthcare, substance use is not a “reportable offense.” This double marginalization of pregnant patients limits their autonomy and unduly exposes them to the criminal-legal system. Given disparities in prenatal drug screening, Black pregnant patients are at greater risk of such double-jeopardy. Public health and medical organizations have released policy statements against states’ punitive laws, but little has changed. Healthcare providers and institutions should prioritize evidence-based care to benefit the health and wellbeing of birthing person and their infant and combat “legal” interference at the clinic and public-health scale.

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Correspondence to Max Jordan Nguemeni Tiako.

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Nguemeni Tiako, M.J., Sweeney, L. The Government’s Involvement in Prenatal Drug Testing May Be Toxic. Matern Child Health J 26, 761–763 (2022).

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  • Substance use disorder
  • Racial disparities
  • Child protective services
  • Prenatal drug testing