Hospital Ignores Judge's Order To Release Pregnant Woman Battling Heroin Addiction

By McCarton Ackerman 10/10/16

Doctors believe that sending the pregnant woman to a jail without the necessary services to treat her condition is a safety issue.

Hospital Ignores Judge's Order To Release Pregnant Woman Battling Heroin Addiction

A pregnant woman struggling with heroin addiction in Alabama is at the center of a standoff between a hospital and a judge, with the former refusing to release her despite the judge’s orders. reported that after giving birth last year to a drug-exposed baby, 21-year-old Alexandra Laird was released on bond. But after testing positive for heroin during another pregnancy, Judge David Hobdy ordered her to jail last month. Laird was recently sent to the UAB Hospital in Birmingham after sustaining a head injury while in jail, and now her doctor there is declining to send her back to jail until she gives birth. She will remain at the hospital until the doctor discharges her, which may be after she gives birth.

"Presently, no standards, rules or regulations exist for the provision of substance use disorders treatment services for pregnant women in Alabama jails," wrote Sarah Harkless, director of substance abuse treatment and development for the Alabama Department of Mental Health, in a letter to the judge. "Jails do not provide an appropriate setting for the provision of services necessary for the proper care of this population."

During a hearing in September, Dr. Peter Lane of the UAB Addiction Recovery Program urged the judge to send her to Aletheia House, a women-only rehab center in Birmingham that has a program specifically for pregnant women with substance use disorders. But Hobdy declined both the request and to grant her bond, instead ordering UAB to develop a treatment plan for Laird inside the jail.

Noting that the staff at UAB gave her Subutex, a drug that helps reduce the symptoms of opioid withdrawal, Hobdy also ordered the jail to continue providing Laird with the medication and to work with UAB on developing a treatment and counseling plan.

A team of addiction experts have since spoken out against Hobdy’s ruling, questioning why she is facing several months behind bars when she has yet to be convicted of a crime. But unfortunately, there is a lack of consistency nationwide when it comes to how addicted pregnant women who commit crimes are treated.

“This is an emotional issue for people. People see babies with withdrawal symptoms and they want someone to blame. But punishing the mother is not best for the baby,” said Whitney Englander, Government Relations Manager for the Harm Reduction Coalition in Washington, D.C., exclusively to The Fix in April 2015. “We need to create a standard best practice policy for how to treat pregnant women that is based on science and decades of evidence-based research, not knee-jerk reactions and anger.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.