Saturday, April 5, 2014

Breastfeeding overdose?

Yesterday, I happened to read a sad story about a woman from South Carolina whose six week old baby died from a morphine overdose.  The woman, name of Stephanie Green, has an addiction to painkillers owing to a car accident she had back in 1998.  While she was pregnant with her daughter, Alexis, she carefully hid her condition from doctors so she could keep getting her meds.  Complicating this story is the fact that Green was a registered nurse until 2004, when she lost her license because of her addiction.

Despite the fact that Green was a nurse, she chose to breastfeed her daughter.  Somehow, she got so much morphine in her system that the baby "overdosed" after nursing.  When Green found her daughter unresponsive, she called 911.  She was in a dazed state and was unable to revive the baby.  Investigators at the scene saw pill bottles and painkiller patches where her then four year old son could get to them.

I posted about this on Facebook and one of my friends said he would be "fine" with it if the state "put a bullet in her head".  I had to deliver a smack down.  This guy is a friend and former co-worker of my husband's and sometimes he reacts emotionally to things without thinking about it first.

I pointed out that Ms. Green still has three living kids who don't deserve to lose their mother to execution.  Moreover, addiction is not a character flaw.  He came back and reminded me that she was a nurse who should have "known better".  I said I hoped he never had anyone close to him with an addiction.  I think he needs an empathy check.  And if she was that fucked up on drugs, I doubt she had her wits about her anyway, despite her status as a nurse.    

Green was sentenced to 20 years in prison and will have to serve 16 years before she will be considered for parole.  Her case was the first one in the nation against a mother whose breast milk is blamed for killing a child.

Frankly, I think there's something off about this case.  I don't know anything about how drugs are transmitted through breast milk.  I do know that babies can get illnesses passed to them through milk.  I remember reading about Ariel Glaser, a child whose mother suffered a lot of bleeding during her birth and got HIV infected blood.  Both mother and child ended up with AIDS.  Mother got it from the tainted blood and the baby got it through breastfeeding.  Then mom had another child who was born HIV positive.

But when it comes to drugs and alcohol, there hasn't actually been a lot of research done to show how they affect nursing babies.  Indeed, Green's lawyer pointed out there is little scientific evidence that proves that enough morphine could collect in breast milk that it would kill an infant.  Alexis was only 6 weeks old when she died and she did die of morphine poisoning.  But given that there were so many drugs in Green's bedroom, could she not have gotten the drugs a different way other than through breast milk?  And if mom was using drugs while pregnant, wouldn't Alexis have traces of it in her system at birth?

Clearly, Ms. Green was negligent and she should certainly be held responsible.  While some point out that she was a nurse and that should have a bearing on her punishment, I just don't know that 16-20 years behind bars really serves society.  From what little I know about this case, it appears that this was really a tragic accident that was years in coming.  I might also argue that Green's husband should also be held somewhat responsible.  Did he not know his wife had a problem with drugs if there were so many sitting out in plain view when the paramedics got to their house?  Didn't he pick up some of her prescriptions?  And what about the doctors?  She doctor shopped, but how much effort would it be to give a pregnancy test to women of childbearing age who want or need certain drugs?  They test before giving other drugs, right?  
When I was getting my MPH/MSW in South Carolina, I did an internship at Recovering Professionals Program, which is a monitoring program in which medical professionals with drug problems try to keep their licenses by submitting to testing.  I ended up leaving the internship because I wasn't getting enough out of it to write a paper for the MPH side of my schooling.  In any case, I learned enough at that internship to know that nurses with drug problems often drop out of the profession rather than submit to treatment.  Doctors, on the other hand, will agree to treatment because they have a lot more to lose than nurses do.  Their education is more extensive and expensive.

Anyway, I think losing her daughter is already a terrible punishment for Ms. Green.  I do think addiction is an illness and she needs medical help, rather than a lengthy incarceration.  I don't support taking her out and executing her and I don't admire those who have that kind of black and white thinking.  Bill's friend backed off, though.

In other news…  Yesterday, Bill had a phone interview that went well.  The recruiter who spoke with him said that he couldn't have chosen a hotter field to get educated in than cyber-security.  It won't surprise me if he ends up with a job offer related to his new field.      

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