In April, Tennessee passed a law allowing women who use narcotic drugs during pregnancy to be thrown in jail for up to 15 years, regardless of whether the child suffered any ill-effects. This week, new mother Mallory Loyola became the first woman in Tennessee to be arrested under the new law.
Loyola, 26, gave birth to a baby girl on Sunday at the UT Medical Center in Monroe County, Tennessee. Police were called when the baby tested positive for meth. Loyola—who admitted to smoking meth a few days before giving birth—was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault (punishable by up to one year in prison). While the law allows some pregnant women to opt for a treatment program over time behind bars, no such option is available for drug-addicted moms once they give birth.
"Anytime someone is addicted and they can't get off for their own child, their own flesh and blood, it's sad," Monroe County Sheriff Bill Bivens told local news station WATE, adding that he hoped Loyola's fate would deter other pregnant drug users.
Cases like Loyola's are sad, of course. And I understand the impulse people have to do! something! about it! But addiction isn't rational, and addicts don't generally respond to the same incentives a non-addict would. If the welfare of someone's "own flesh and blood" isn't enough to stop them from using, why would the possibility of police intervention work? I suspect Loyola's fate will deter other pregnant drug users, but not from doing drugs; it will deter them from seeking addiction treatment, prenatal care, and hospital births.
Notably, the new Tennessee statue was passed with painkiller addicts in mind—state officials spoke to the need to address the "epidemic" of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a form of withdraw that can result from a mom using prescription opioids (such as codeine and Vicodin), heroin, or methodone during pregnancy. The language of the Tennessee bill specifically criminalizes narcotic use during pregnancy only:
As enacted, provides that a woman may be prosecuted for assault for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug; law expires July 1, 2016.
As meth is by no means a narcotic, it will be interesting to see how law enforcement tries to justify Loyola's arrest under this statute. The Drug Enforcement Agency's extensive drug classification list explicitly states that both amphetamine and methamphetamine are not narcotic drugs. And Tennessee's own state code defines narcotic specifically as any compounds, salts, and derivatives of opium and coca leaves.
(For a more detailed look on how states and hospitals across the U.S. are addressing pregnancy drug use, and the implications, see this piece I published here in May and this piece from BirthAnarchy.com.)