Another Poppy Seed-Based Child Abduction

Monday, July 18th, 2011

This is just awful.

For the second time in a year, Lawrence County Children and Youth Services has been accused in a federal lawsuit of removing a child from a mother’s custody after a positive test for opiates allegedly triggered by poppy seeds.

Eileen Ann Bower, a Lawrence County resident whose residence and age were not provided, gave birth to a son, Brandon, on July 13, 2009, according to a complaint filed late Friday. She was stunned, it said, when a blood test at Jameson Hospital came back positive for opiates.

Brandon was taken into foster care three days after his birth, it said, and only returned on Sept. 29. In the interim, Ms. Bower came to the conclusion that the test must have come back positive due to her ingestion, at her last meal before childbirth, of Salad Supreme dressing with poppy seeds . . .

In October, New Castle mother Elizabeth Mort sued the county and Jameson Health, alleging that a poppy seed bagel spurred a positive test for opiates in April 2010 that prompted the seizure of her baby, Isabella Rodriguez. She is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, and the litigation is ongoing.

I guess it could be worse. At least she wasn’t charged with attempted murder.

(And yes, poppy seeds can set off a drug test.)

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49 Responses to “Another Poppy Seed-Based Child Abduction”

  1. #1 |  Aresen | 

    Might I suggest a surprise drug test on the children of every employee of the Lawrence County Children and Youth Services?

  2. #2 |  DarkEFang | 

    Maybe this has an obvious answer, but why was her blood being tested for opiates for in the first place? Do they do that to every woman giving birth?

  3. #3 |  Andrew S. | 

    @Aresen, don’t test the kids. Just bring in bagels, and then test the employees soon afterwards. Anybody that tests positive (by their apparent ludicrous standards) loses their kids to the state. After all, it’s for the children, so we should err on the side of safety!

  4. #4 |  Stephen | 

    #2 | DarkEFang |

    I instantly had the same thought. When was permission given for this test?

    Oh, wait… the 4th amendment to our constitution is dead already. Sorry, I forgot.

  5. #5 |  Leah | 

    The maternity care system is pretty messed up in many ways (forced c-sections/episiotomies, abusive/bullying tactics by hospitals to coerce laboring women into doing what they want, etc), but this pretty much takes the cake. I think I need to take a bit of a news break to ease my blood pressure now.

  6. #6 |  Scott Lazarowitz | 

    Have your baby in a private midwifery clinic, under a contract that excludes drug testing.

  7. #7 |  Pete | 

    If these infallible drug tests are pinging after people ingest poppy seeds, we clearly need to add poppy seeds to the list of prohibited drugs.

    Next thing you know, kids will be eating poppy seeds by the sifted handful, and going on berserk rampages in search of cream cheese or lox.

  8. #8 |  Pete | 

    Also, the Mythbusters bit fails basic scientific method – without a control test to determine that they are clean, the test with poppy seeds is useless. (Although I’m still watching, maybe they’ll slip this in. However, if our criminal justice system has taught me anything, mere ‘assurances’ as to cleanliness are useless.)

  9. #9 |  Marty | 

    Steal This Urine Test by Abbie Hoffman opened my eyes to the evils of drug testing way back in the early 80s… so many abuses from this nonsense.

  10. #10 |  johnl | 

    There are all kinds of reasons why a person whould take actual opium medications. They are effective and, when taken under supervision, safe. Just knowing that someone has taken opium doesn’t even make it likely that opium has been misused.

  11. #11 |  Kristen | 

    Like most people who have the “it could never happen to me!” attitude, she probably did give permission, never even thinking about her poppy seeds (or thinking it’s a myth), nor that the kids of an upstanding citizen such as her would ever wind up in the system.

  12. #12 |  Bronwyn | 

    Scott @ #6

    That would be great, so long as you live in a state where midwifery is legal. I had to cross state lines to give birth with a midwife.

    I don’t know if my blood was tested for opiates in Indiana or Kentucky (1 birth in the former, 2 births in the latter). My blood was drawn, but I was told it was for anemia.

  13. #13 |  Rick | 

    What this woman went through is terrible…. if it is true, but I wouldn’t bet my lunch money on it… She wouldn’t be the first to blame a failed drug test on poppy seeds. On the other hand, the bureaucrat’s in that area seem to have an especially bad track record…Who to believe???
    The opposite of this can be equally infuriating, and is far more common, at least in Texas. My wife is a NICU (neonatal ICU) nurse and all of the time (literally every week or two), women on medicaid come in and deliver babies with all sorts of problems related to drug use. These poor babies are born months early, undeveloped, terribly sick, and will suffer for the rest of their lives…all because their mom’s couldn’t lay off the cocaine or booze for 9 months. 99% of the time…after a lengthy hospital stay on the taxpayer dime…hundreds of thousands of dollars if not more, the baby goes home with the mother who did this too them…. That sickens me just as much as this story. I’m all for drug legalization and 99% of what Radley writes about, but I have no sympathy for a pregnant woman who intentionally exposes her unborn child to these poisons. I’m far from being a pro-life nut, but sorry, I just don’t have a big problem with putting away a woman who did cocaine while she was pregnant.

  14. #14 |  Zeb | 

    #10, that’s waht I was thinking. Opiates are common and legal medications. How many people don’t have some old Vicodin in their medicine cabinets? There are plenty of legitimate reasons why a woman might have knowingly and deliberately taken opiates.

  15. #15 |  Zeb | 

    #8, Mythbusters is generally pretty bad at providing controls for their “experiments”. But poppy seeds really do have morphine in them. If you ate 2 lbs of them or so, you would get high.

  16. #16 |  SJE | 

    The ridiculous thing is not that she could get opiates from poppy seeds, but that the County went crazy from a small amount of drugs in her systems. Most women in US maternity wards have take large amounts of drugs in their system, on account of the pain of pushing a baby through their vagina.

  17. #17 |  BSK | 

    “#10, that’s waht I was thinking. Opiates are common and legal medications. How many people don’t have some old Vicodin in their medicine cabinets? There are plenty of legitimate reasons why a woman might have knowingly and deliberately taken opiates.”

    Out of curiosity, would it be safe to take vicodin or other opiate-based drugs when pregnant?

  18. #18 |  Kwix | 

    WRT opiates in poppy seeds:
    Yes, if the blood test is just for the presence of opiates then a very small quantity of poppy seeds (one bagel is more than enough) will correctly test positive.

    However, if they are actually taking blood for testing, they should be using a threshold test that is sufficiently high enough to eliminate “seed positives”. 2000ng/L is commonly accepted as being a high enough threshold. “Field” tests do not reflect levels, just presence.

    I’m not saying that drug testing is right, but if the Government is going to hang it’s hat on this odious process, it had better do it correctly. Then again, when has the government ever let correct get in the way of “right”.

  19. #19 |  freebob | 

    In the video before they take their test the narrator says they’re taking their 2nd test, I maybe wrong but I think the control test was edited out. I’m not sayin’ the Mythbusters are perfect, I’m just sayin’.

  20. #20 |  Christ on a Cracker | 

    I saw the MB show in TV. I remember them both testing negative prior to eating the poppyseeds. It must have been editted out on the web version.

  21. #21 |  SJE | 

    The fact that poppy seeds can give you a positive opiate test is so well known, going back decades, that the failure to control for this SHOULD be grounds for gross negligence. This is important because government immunity from negligence law suits does not always extend to gross negligence.

  22. #22 |  Michael Chaney | 

    I’m not saying that drug testing is right, but if the Government is going to hang it’s hat on this odious process, it had better do it correctly.

    Or what?

  23. #23 |  Big A | 

    I’m waiting for the story in which officials claim that eating poppy seeds gives her an excuse to fail the test.

    Maybe when they run these tests, the control should be the blood of whoever ordered the test. If they’ve got nothing to hide…

  24. #24 |  Big A | 

    #13 Rick- you bring up a good point. If a women has the right to abort a fetus, then doesn’t she also have the right to take whatever drugs she wants while pregnant? What’s the libertarian stance on this? Doing drugs while pregnant shouldn’t be illegal, just socially frowned upon like drunk driving? What if damage is actually done?

  25. #25 |  JS | 

    Poppy seeds should be illegal.

    I don’t know. That seems to be where this is heading.

  26. #26 |  IllyAlley | 

    The year before I started law school, my wife and I were invited to dinner at the home of a judge for whom my wife dog sat. After dinner, we all had a desert of the judges own homemade poppy seed cookies with sweet cream icing. At one point the judge quipped that we had better make sure not to violate any traffic laws on the way home, for if we are stopped and events led to our being drug tested, we could test positive for opiates merely due to the poppy seed content of her cookies. When I verbally doubed that we could be prosecuted for a false positive due to poppy seed consumption, the judge became very haughty and stern in her demeanor. She explained to me that she had personally sentenced persons to incarceration in cases where the evidence compelled her to believe that the defendant had done nothing more than ingest poppy seeds. She also said that she thought these cases were common enough to pose a bit of a problem, but the law is the law after all, and it must be enforced without being tempered by common sense. Just an anecdote…

  27. #27 |  freebob | 

    Maybe doctors should start taking pregnant women’s stool samples. If women don’t have the right to abortion, than they don’t have a right to choose what goes into that baby’s body. Poor nutrition causes damage. Obesity is an epidemic. Passing laws solves everything. The War On Drugs and the fact that you live in a drug free America is all the proof you need.

  28. #28 |  BSK | 


    This seems to be circling back to the conversation on another post regarding circumcision. It was really hard to decide where we draw the line… many felt that circumcision was obviously wrong and a ban was legitimate but it started to get squishy when we considered other decisions that parents made on behalf of children that could have negative impacts on the child. It’s a really tricky conversation… I don’t know where the lines are drawn. I think much of this depends on which viewpoint we are considering… is a ban on circumcision or drug use by pregnant women a legitimate protection of the child/fetus’s rights? Or an imposition on the rights of the mother/parents? Libertarians generally bristle at government bans but there are obvious legitimate ones (you are banned from robbing me and punching me). But the line between parents’ rights and children/fetus’s rights is a really tricky one.

  29. #29 |  Sean L. | 

    #26 — I hope you had the decency to leave immediately and never return. What a pathetic excuse for a meat bag. (The judge.)

  30. #30 |  André | 

    All I could think as I watched the Mythbusters episode was “oh god… so many carbs.”

  31. #31 |  johnl | 

    BSK taking opium under a doctors advice is almost axiomatically safe. Otherwise, the doctor wouldn’t have advised it.

  32. #32 |  Aresen | 

    @ IllyAlley | July 18th, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    I shuddered at that judge’s attitude, but I am wondering if the judges in that jurisdiction have the power of absolute discharge, which allows the judge the discretion to release someone who is technically guilty but does not realistically merit any punishment.

  33. #33 |  BSK | 

    Thanks, Johnl. I don’t know much about what is safe or not safe for women during pregnancy outside the obvious or drugs I’ve taken that had massive warnings about their side effects on pregnancy.

  34. #34 |  BSK | 


    But is simply failing a test a crime? The crime is the use of illegal opiates, right? Or is the crime the failed test? I know many might point out that these are one in the same but, as evidenced by the ability of poppy seeds to trigger a positive test, they are clearly not. That would be like a cop looking at my bank account, seeing a lot of money there, and assuming I robbed a bank and arresting me for theft.

  35. #35 |  Dan | 

    @34 – I agree with your question.

    However, this situation is more like me hiring an accountant to prepare my income tax return. During the preparation the accountant sees a $22.13 transaction from an offshore bank account to pay for an antique oven mitt I listed on EBay. Because the money was transferred from offshore, the accountant was required (by polity) to report the transaction to the local FBI as a drug related transaction, which leads to my arrest.

  36. #36 |  Mike | 

    Every child social workers steal yields federal dollars. It’s all about the money. Ripping apart families makes their budget.

    Social workers are evil.

  37. #37 |  Stephen | 

    Has anybody heard if Cory Maye is actually free yet?

  38. #38 |  BigIron | 

    Back in the 1960s when the A&P grocery chain existed over a large geographical area of our country A&P sold their “store brand” (Ann Parker or something to that effect) of what they called “brown and serve” dinner rolls. Their “poppy seed” rolls not only had REAL poppy-seeds but those poppy-seeds were also FERTILE poppy-seeds! … at least until they were “browned”. Hmmm?

  39. #39 |  Kristen | 

    Now I’m having a craving for those MIddle Eastern poppyseed cookies. Too bad I don’t have a damn car to get to the damn Mediterranean grocery!

  40. #40 |  Mannie | 

    #23 | Big A | July 18th, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Maybe when they run these tests, the control should be the blood of whoever ordered the test. If they’ve got nothing to hide…

    … After the tech has consumed two poppy seed bagels.

  41. #41 |  Tommy | 

    @ BSK 34
    The article didn’t say that the parents were even charged with a crime. The state doesn’t have to do that to take your kids away.

  42. #42 |  Windy | 

    Kristen, I love almond/poppy seed desserts of all sorts, not so much the lemon/poppy seed variety.

    Funny tho about the poppy seed bad test, hubby had a scrip for Vicodin due to his bad back (from driving a big rig for 40 years) and because he was a commercial truck driver he got tested twice as often as any non truck driver at his company — he always came up clear — poppy seeds should not trigger a positive if Vicodin doesn’t, there is more opiate in taking Vicodin 3 or 4 times a day than in eating a poppy seed muffin or bagel, so apparently the test they did on those two mothers was skewed in some way.

    I think there should be strict parameters for the reasons the state can take a child from its parents, it seems as tho they can, currently, just take children whenever they want with little cause. On the other hand, they all too often don’t take children that are truly in danger from their parents and the children end up severely injured or dead. It seems as tho the state all too often does the opposite of what it should be doing.

  43. #43 |  Nick T. | 


    The issue is the standard of the test itself. Some tests will trigger at a threshold of 300ng/mL (or whatever) and others will trigger at 2000. 200 is generally regarded as the standard, but of course when Child Protection is invovled and hospitals testing new moms they use very low thresholds which can be set off by poppy seeds. Trucking companies – and most professional tests, including those same hospitals when they test their employees and not pregannt moms -likely use higher threshold tests for convenience and meaningfulness sake.

    Poppy seeds absolutely can yield positive tests.

    Radley, this area of government intrusiveness is rife with abuse and really could use more media attention. Of course most states protect these activities from the prying eyes of the media which in turn allows their social workers and agents to run wild over, typically, poor, uneducated folks with limited resources. Here’s a good website for some primer info

    I see it everyday, and it’s an amazing system in terms of how intrusive, non evidence-based, discriminatory and harmful this system is.

  44. #44 |  Nick T. | 

    Sorry that 3rd number above should be 2000 not 200. Typo

  45. #45 |  Cyto | 

    Opiates are one of the few painkilling drugs that are safe to use during pregnancy. Even at high doses over long periods they are regarded as safe for the fetus during development. The notion that testing positive for opiates initiates an automated seizure of the child is patently ridiculous, and not just for the obvious potential for false positives. Abusing aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen are more likely to harm the fetus than heroin. Caffeine is widely seen as more dangerous to the developing fetus than opiates.

  46. #46 |  Charles | 

    Even more idiotic is that they (hospitals) do these tests after administering opioid narcotics to the women.

  47. #47 |  Dr. T | 

    My specialty is Laboratory Medicine. Poppy seed ingestion can trigger false positives if the opiate screening test is crude and its cutoff is set too low. When such a test is positive, the proper course of action is to perform a confirmatory test that measures the exact amounts and types of opiates present (if any). Assuming that the mother is a drug abuser and taking away her newborn is highly improper based on a crude screening test. Unfortunately, in these cases all the legal support is on the side of the hospital personnel and the child protective service personnel (none of whom will be disciplined for being idiots who disrupted the important mother-newborn bonding period).

  48. #48 |  supercat | 

    #32 | Aresen | July 19th, 2011 at 12:41 am //…I am wondering if the judges in that jurisdiction have the power of absolute discharge, which allows the judge the discretion to release someone who is technically guilty but does not realistically merit any punishment.//

    If a jury of twelve people familiar with the facts of a case would agree that imposing a particular penalty would constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” relative to the actual actions of the defendant, that would pretty well imply that such a punishment would be illegitimate. For a jury to acquit under such circumstances would not represent lawlessness, but would instead represent an upholding of the law. If a judge were to determine that no reasonable jury could regard a punishment as reasonable given a defendant’s particular actions, I see no reason the judge should not feel similarly compelled not to impose the punishment.

  49. #49 |  August 2 roundup | 

    […] Another horrific report of poppy seed positive drug test followed by child-grabbing [Radley Balko] […]