Indiana prosecutor considering charging women who give birth to drug-dependent babies

Posted at 2:26 PM, Jun 22, 2017

In an effort to help stop the county's drug crisis, Madison County prosecutor Rodney Cummings is "exploring" the idea of charging women who give birth to drug-dependent babies.

Cummings said 20 percent of babies born in Madison County are drug-dependent. 

"It's simply unacceptable," he said. "It's irresponsible. I can't think of a reason why they shouldn't be charged."

His plan involves working with local hospitals and treatment facilities. If the expectant mothers are working to stay clean and participate in the treatment, they wouldn't be prosecuted. 

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, babies with withdrawal show the following symptoms:

  • Seizures and shaking
  • Constant crying that can’t be comforted
  • Trouble eating and sleeping
  • Frequent spit up
  • Upset stomach and diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Trouble growing and gaining weight

The percentage of babies born with withdrawal symptoms has increased in the past 15 years, from 1.2 out of every 1,000 births in 2000 to 3.39 out of every 1,000 births in 2009.

"My goal is not to lock people up and put them in prison," Cummings said. "My goal is to keep pregnant women from having babies that are drug-dependent -- whatever works. My experience is usually is that they have some sort of punitive treatment at the end, they're more likely to get treatment."

For the people who may disagree with his idea and instead say they need treatment, not punishment, he says those ideas are "idealistic."

"They are sick, they do need treatment," he said. "That usually is a prison sentence staring them in the face."

Madison County is one of a handful of counties in the state that offers a needle exchange program, something Cummings said is "illegal."

"Anyone else who does that -- if you are standing on the corner passing out drug paraphernalia that you know is going to be used to inject heroin into the body…anybody else gets arrested for that," he said. 

Madison County public health coordinator Stephanie Grimes said the overdoses in the county aren't due to the tool distribution. 

"People were overdosing before we had this program,” she said.“People are going to overdose if the program goes away. I don't think this program is promoting overdose by any means."

Cummings said he isn't aware of any other community in the country that prosecutes mothers of drug-dependent babies, but "nothing else seems to be working."

He's hoping to have a plan in place over the next few months. 

If you are using an illegal drug or prescription while pregnant, tell your doctor immediately. Do not stop taking the drugs without first discussing it with your doctor. Stopping some substances suddenly can sometimes be worse than gradually reducing them.

For more information: 

  • Call 855-435-7178 or 211 for help finding a doctor or other services you need.
  • The MothertoBaby phone line: 866-626-6847 Call this number to get immediate, free advice about the safety of any substance during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: 1-800-662-HELP (English, Spanish)