Pubdate: Wed, 01 Dec 2004
Source: Spartanburg Herald Journal (SC)
Copyright: 2004 The Spartanburg Herald-Journal
Author: Lynne Powell
Bookmark: (Women)


The case of a Gaffney woman facing felony child neglect charges
after she and her newborn had cocaine in their bloodstream has
ignited debate on whether addicted mothers should be prosecuted.

Pamela Jane Cruz-Reyes of Gaffney was charged with unlawful child
neglect on Nov. 27 after she and her newborn tested positive for
cocaine. A magistrate Monday ordered her to have no contact with her

South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster contends the law is
clear: Taking cocaine is illegal and such conduct won't be tolerated.

The S.C. Supreme Court has ruled that a woman's substance abuse late
in pregnancy constitutes criminal child abuse.

In the 1997 case of Whitner vs. South Carolina, the court ruled that a
viable fetus is a "person" under the criminal child endangerment
statute and that "maternal acts endangering or likely to endanger the
life, comfort or health of a viable fetus" could constitute child abuse.

Charging a mother with possession of a controlled substance,
delivering drugs to a minor

(through the umbilical cord), corruption of a minor, and child abuse
and neglect is rare, but not unprecedented.

McMaster's spokesman Mark Plowden said the Attorney General's Office
hasn't prosecuted a similar case in several years.

A 29-year-old Spartanburg mother was sentenced to five years in prison
and five years probation earlier this year after she pleaded guilty to
three counts of unlawful conduct toward a child by a parent.

Angela Shannette Kennedy tested positive for cocaine during three
pregnancies over five years.

Since the mid-1980s, when media outlets began to publicize
crack-cocaine addicted mothers, states have enacted various laws to
deal with the problem.

Fourteen states consider taking drugs during pregnancy to be a civil
child abuse matter, with three states considering it grounds for civil

Nine states require medical professionals to report suspected prenatal
drug abuse, and four require testing for prenatal drug exposure if
they suspect abuse.

Nineteen states have funded drug treatment programs targeting pregnant
women, and seven provide pregnant women with priority access to
state-funded treatment programs.

"South Carolina has nothing," said Susan K. Dunn, an attorney who
defended Cornelia Whitner, who was tried for using cocaine during her
third trimester.

"We have nothing in place to help these mothers. In fact, if you ask
for help, you better go outside South Carolina because if you tell
you've taken drugs, they can take your baby after its born."

Dunn is an outspoken critic of prosecuting expectant mothers who have
tested positive for drugs.

"It's not good health policy," Dunn said. "It scares people away from
asking for help and is counterproductive."

Dunn contends states should help fund programs to treat addicted
mothers, not scare them into hiding.

"Separating a mother from her child and throwing the book at her is
not dealing with the problem," she said. "That baby needs that mother."

Local hospitals use different criteria in deciding whether to drug
test a child or mother.

Upstate Carolina Medical Center spokesman Steve Wong said the hospital
uses six criteria. If one of the criteria is met, the hospital can
order the test regardless of whether the mother consents to the test,
he said.

The criteria that UCMC uses that could show drug abuse by the mother
include: no maternal prenatal care, little or late prenatal care,
placenta tearing away from the uterine wall, preterm labor or delivery
with no predisposing factors or medical reasons, previously known or
reported drug use, positive maternal drug screen on admission or
revealed during prenatal screen.

"If one or more of the criteria are met, we may order a drug screen on
the baby," Wong said.

In the event of a positive drug screen, the Department of Social
Services would be notified. DSS then could contact law enforcement to
take the child into emergency protective custody.

Yvonne Despard ,Mary Black Memorial vice president of marketing, said
if a child shows clinical symptoms such as tremors, convulsions or
unexplained diarrhea or vomiting, a drug screen could be ordered.

"We could notify DSS with or without a drug screen if we suspected
substance abuse," she said.

Cases of maternal substance abuse are infrequent, Despard

Spartanburg Regional obtains informed consent from patients who
undergo drug screenings.

"Patients are informed that DSS will be notified of positive test
results, and patients are also informed that criminal prosecution is
possible if adherence to the criteria of a treatment program is not
followed as required by the judicial system," reads a statement from
SRMC spokeswoman Betsy McMillan.
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