Today, two women filed lawsuits against Garnet Health Medical Center alleging that the Middletown, New York, hospital drug tested them without their consent when they were giving birth. They both tested “presumptive positive” initially, but later tested negative—as did their newborns—and the false positives were the result of eating poppy seeds.
The women allege that hospital staff interfered with their ability to breastfeed, despite their newborns testing negative. The hospital also reported their unconfirmed, false positive results to the state, and child welfare authorities conducted unnecessary and invasive home visits. The suits allege that not only does Garnet Health conduct drug testing without informed consent, but it uses opiate testing thresholds far lower than the levels the federal government uses for workplace testing—300 ng/mL versus 2,000 ng/mL—levels the government raised more than 20 years ago, specifically because of false positives.
Jezebel contacted Garnet Health about the lawsuits and a spokesperson said they have “no comment.”
The suits are asking for Garnet Health to stop conducting non-consensual drug tests. They were filed by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) and the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the latter is also advocating for a proposed New York law to ban drug testing pregnant people without their consent.
The first plaintiff, Crystal H., gave birth in December 2020 and tested “presumptive positive” for opiates. She told staff she’d eaten from a poppy bagel hours before she was admitted and asked for a re-test, but was initially refused. She tested negative two days after her son was born, but Garnet Health refused to send the negative test result to the state. Case workers showed up at Crystal’s home within 12 hours of her being discharged from the hospital. After a 60-day investigation into abuse and maltreatment, authorities determined the charges were unfounded and expunged the case.
The second plaintiff, Jane Doe, had eaten several servings of a salad with poppy seed dressing before being admitted to Garnet Health in March 2021 at 37 weeks pregnant. Jane requested testing for a urinary tract infection but the hospital also ran a drug test without her consent. Like Crystal, Jane also tested “presumptive positive” and was denied a second test; her baby also tested negative, but Garnet Health still put “in utero drug exposure” in the baby’s health records. The hospital said the baby had to stay an additional 24-48 hours for monitoring and forbade Jane from nursing. Jane tested negative but Child Protective Services (CPS) still did a search of the home she shares with her mother while Jane and the baby were at the hospital. The CPS investigation of Jane was determined to be unfounded.
Both Crystal and Jane are asking for Garnet Health to remove the false positives from their medical records, issue an apology, and compensate them for emotional suffering.
Medical organizations like American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reject the blanket drug testing of pregnant people because it can lead to family separation, affect employment and housing, and deter people from getting medical care. Black and Indigenous pregnant people are already subject to drug testing, and it will only increase if Roe v. Wade is gutted or overturned next June and states enforce fetal harm laws. As Marie Solis wrote for Jezebel in September, “When abortion is heavily restricted or outright banned, any negative pregnancy outcome, even premature birth or a birth defect, can be criminalized.”