Fotolia_2715901_XL

“I really wanted to quit. Trust me, no one wanted to quit using more than I did. I just couldn’t do it. I would say I was going to quit, but then I’d wake up and use and then feel so guilty over it because I knew I was hurting my baby. That would make me just want to use more. I really needed help.”

Most people are familiar with the harmful effects of heavy drug and alcohol use on the body. Many drugs can cause irregular heartbeat, respiratory issues, confused thinking, blurred vision, and even sudden death or stroke. These effects are multiplied when pregnant women abuse drugs and alcohol, because the drugs directly affect the unborn child.

According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 1 in 5 pregnant women aged 15-17 admitted to using an illicit drug prior to being surveyed. This is a startling statistic when you consider how dangerous it is for women to use drugs while pregnant. Unfortunately, many women find out they’re pregnant during the period of active addiction. Some women may be able to quit using drugs or find treatment, but the rest of the women continue to suffer from both their addiction and their feelings of guilt over harming their baby.

Currently, there are no laws on the books that prosecute women who use drugs while pregnant. The official consensus was that prosecuting women who use drugs while pregnant would keep the women from seeking treatment. Officials also believed that it would negatively affect the baby if the mother was sent to prison for drug use. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “drug enforcement policies that deter women from seeking prenatal care are contrary to the welfare of the mother and fetus. Incarceration and the threat of incarceration have proved to be ineffective in reducing the incidence of alcohol or drug abuse.”

However, Tennessee may be the first state in the USA to prosecute women who take drugs while pregnant. According to Terri Weaver, a state representative from Tennessee, “This law brings treatment to the worst of the worst. It’s heartbreaking if you’re a police officer, and you see a woman is seven or eight months pregnant and shooting heroin. There is an individual inside that belly that has no choice but to take whatever goes into it.”

Is prosecuting pregnant women really the answer though? Women who use drugs while pregnant are not going to go to the doctor for prenatal treatment if they’re afraid of getting busted. Currently, the USA incarcerates about 2.2 million people. That’s a 500% increase over the past thirty years. If Tennessee passes the new state law, more women will be prosecuted for using drugs while pregnant.

Treatment, not prosecution, is the answer for these women. We need more programs for females who find themselves pregnant and addicted to drugs or alcohol. Early intervention is the best answer for both the mother and her unborn baby.