Pregnant women had poppy bagels before going to hospital. That's when the trouble started

Just before rushing to different hospitals to give birth, two women who did not know each other ate bagels that contained poppy seeds. Both were shocked to learn the hospitals tested them for illicit drugs and reported them for possible abuse or neglect, according to their complaints.

Both tested positive for drug use due to the poppy seeds, stated their complaints filed with the state. Now the two New Jersey women are looking to affect policy changes on how hospitals handle drug testing.

The lawsuit accuses Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack and Virtua Voorhees Hospital in Voorhees Township of drug testing the two women without their knowledge or consent when they arrived to give birth. They claim the hospitals' practice of drug testing pregnant individuals is a violation of the state's Law Against Discrimination on the basis of sex and pregnancy discrimination.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed two complaints to the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights on behalf of these women, only known as Kate and Kaitlin.

Poppy seed bagel.
Poppy seed bagel.

According to the complaints, only one test was given to each woman, which were positive, and both Kate and Kaitlin's infants tested negative for opiates. Yet, they had the Department of Child Protection and Permanency called on them after their drug tests came back positive, reporting them for possible abuse or neglect.


"Discriminatory testing policies like these upend what should be a time of joy for families, and so often subject them to further trauma and unwarranted investigation by the state," said ACLU staff attorney Molly Linhorst.

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A spokeswoman for the Office of the Attorney General said the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights does not comment on pending investigations. Hackensack University Medical Center did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists "specifically rejects the practice in part because of the devastating legal consequences that a positive test can present," said the ACLU.

Eating poppy seed bagels may lead to tests coming up positive for opiates such as heroin, morphine and codeine in urine samples, according to an article by Winchester Hospital.

The Pentagon issued a warning to its active duty military personnel, warning them some varieties of poppy seeds could have higher codeine contamination.

"Research shows that morphine and codeine can sometimes be detected in the urine up to 48 hours after ingestion of poppy seeds from some pastries, such as bagels, muffins, and cakes," stated the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the national organization for U.S. Olympic sports.

Kate said she never realized poppy seeds could cause a positive drug test while Kaitlin told her nurse that she had eaten an everything bagel containing poppy seeds, and the nurse told her it could have caused the positive results, the complaints stated.

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Linhorst said the DCR's job is to investigate alleged discrimination and determine whether or not it occurred. Following an investigation, it may go before an administrative law judge for a judgment and the Division for Civil Rights director can affirm, reject or amend and remand it.

The women approached the ACLU within a week of each other not long after giving birth, which was alarming to the civil rights organization, Linhorst said.

"We're seeing this as a broader state issue," Linhorst said. "We've been hearing from more women with very similar stories."

Similar cases have been filed in New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois and have resulted in policy changes and monetary damages, Linhorst said.

Linhorst said more women are reaching out and sharing their stories because they realize they aren't alone in their experience. She said, statistically, discrimination of this kind is more likely to happen to Black mothers and infants.

Kaitlin said she later found that the lab's testing threshold was "far, far lower than what the federal government uses."

Linhorst said the goal is to create a precedent to have other hospitals take notice that "these practices of drug testing are unlawful and discriminatory." She also wants hospitals to recognize that it could be race-based discrimination as well.

"I felt like the doctors were questioning my character and parenting skills," Kate said. "I’m terrified of ever going to a hospital again; I’m always going to worry that our family could be torn apart. That’s why we are doing all we can to stop this from happening to anyone else."

Kaitlin and Kate are looking to have their medical records amended so they don't reflect the positive drug tests. Linhorst said the women are concerned that the tests could be used to stigmatize them or lead to providers not trusting them.

"Because of what happened, I live in fear of medical tests and how they might be used against me as a mother," Kaitlin said.

In addition to trying to make a lasting change, the women are looking for damages for the emotional trauma they endured following the drug tests. Lindhorst said at least one of them still pays "significant hospital bills" from her and her infant's stay.

This article originally appeared on Poppy bagels, hospital drug tests hurt birthing experience, say women