Nashville Public Radio looks to Northeast Tennessee in reporting that some of those involved in enforcement of a Tennessee law allowing criminal prosecution of mothers who have a child suffering the effects of her drug addiction think the laws is not necessarily a bad thing.
After less than two years in effect, the controversial law must be renewed, or it will expire. While the measure has drawn worldwide disdain from women’s health and civil liberty advocates, some of the women who’ve been charged say the threat of jail-time was a wake-up call.
“If I didn’t go through what I went through, I’d probably be down that same road right now,” says 26-year-old mother Kim Walker of Johnson City. “But now I’m a totally different person. And I’m on the good road, not the bad road.”
Last year, Walker went into labor at home. It’s hard to know whether the drugs she was on had anything to do with this, but the baby came so quickly, she gave birth in her bathroom.
Walker tells the story like it was no big deal. “One push and he was out,” she says.
“My husband delivered him. Didn’t know he was drug exposed until we got to the hospital,” she says. “When we got to the hospital, they took him straight from my hospital room. I didn’t get to see him, didn’t get to hold him, nothing.”
He spent 28 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, withdrawing from the painkillers Walker was taking illegally.
Walker had to take a drug test, which she failed. Then she was charged with assault. But like most women, she chose treatment in order to avoid conviction.
Rehab was a rocky road. There’s been a relapse along the way. But in late October, Walker gave birth to another son — Jack — this time, drug-free.
…Lisa Tipton falls somewhere in the middle. “I don’t feel the law is perfect,” she says. “I don’t feel the law is necessarily the solution…but we were absolutely bombarded.”
Tipton runs a non-profit treatment center called Families Free in Johnson City. This part of Northeast Tennessee is the epicenter of the state’s — and even the country’s — problem with neonatal abstinence syndrome.
The rural region has had — by far — the most cases of NAS, the technical name for when an infant withdraws from opioids…. Tipton recognizes that Tennessee’s law has a bad rap among women’s health advocates and civil liberty groups. But she says she’s not hearing great alternatives from the naysayers.
“I would really invite them to go in our area, into the trailer parks where they may be living with several family members who also use drugs and sometimes abuse them, and their children as well. To go into the jails and talk to the women whose lives have been destroyed by drugs and whose children are being raised by somebody else,” Tipton says. “Help come up with some very real-life and real-world solutions that are going to change the lives of these women.”