Born an Addict: Is the Mother a Criminal?

baby born addicted to drugs

Pregnant women are warned time and time again to avoid using drugs, whether legal or illegal, during their pregnancies. But according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 19% of pregnant women between 2002 and 2007 drank alcohol during the first trimester of their pregnancies, and the statistics with marijuana and cigarettes were similar.

Enoch was born in September 2012 in Utah.  At his birth, Enoch was addicted to cocaine, heroin, and prescription drugs.  Shea Renee Sheeran, Enoch’s birth mother, allegedly used these drugs during her pregnancy. Cocaine and heroin stay in a fetus’ system longer than an adult’s, and increases the risk of miscarriage, placental abruption, preterm birth, and birth defects. 

In November, Sheeran was charged with child abuse due to her illegal drug use during her pregnancy. Sheeran gave Enoch up in order to get a lighter sentence.

“We love this young lady, she had the courage,” said Enoch's adoptive mom. “She might not have done the right thing when she was pregnant with him, but in the end, when it counted, she did the right thing.”

While doctors treated Enoch for his addiction and he went through withdrawals, his adoptive family stayed by his crib for 16 hours every day.

According to WebMD, even prescription drugs and caffeine can be harmful during pregnancy and according to National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), more than 18 states in the U.S. mention drug use by pregnant women in their civil child neglect laws.

While I do understand the need for sympathy and treatment of pregnant women with addictions, I also think they should be held accountable for their actions. The drugs their mothers use during their pregnancies harm innocent, unborn children, and we can’t ignore that.

What do you think? Should addiction during pregnancy be treated as a crime, or a disease?

Image via Flickr

What do you think?

Born an Addict: Is the Mother a Criminal?

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25 comments

  1. lorie2013 says:

    that is a sorry moma i know a child with a bad speech impetiment because he had 3 differ drugs in his system when he was born he is smart thanks to god but he will never talk right the mothers should be put away where they will be sick as hell and detox let them feel how bad that baby feels!!

  2. Jessica says:

    Addictions, whether legal or not, are very hard to break. When you choose to bring a child into the world, you chose cuz you opened your legs, that child in your belly depends on you. You should take every opportunity to break that addiction. If you can’t do it alone there are clinics that can help. I believe there should be consequences for not taking care of your unborn child. There are convictions for not taking care of a born child so it should be the same for the unborn child when born.

  3. Banniesv says:

    I would also say I very strongly believe women can get help, quit during pregnancy and can receive care that decreases risks for baby tremendously. One point of care is medicine management which has been shown to be very successful. However the mother is still on something, that she has to get from her Dr each day, that the baby would still be physically dependent on. So if we could accept this solution as we do the insulin, we could help many women and children. Again a large problem is the availability of such help. I just hope that we can care for these women.

  4. Banniesv says:

    I agree with Peppy, after having watched and helped people in this particular situation, I believe she should be charged for possession, since that is illegal, but should be treated for the drug use since that is a disease. In fact, I would point out the terminology is a bit off. Addiction, is considered by many in the field, to be your mental and emotional need/tie to the substance, which the baby would not have yet. This baby is, in fact, physically dependent. Which is sad and hard to watch, yes, but treatable. You do not blame a diabetic for the fact that their baby is born dependent to insulin, because its not an illegal substance and for many women, diabetes is obviously not a lifestyle choice. However, for some it is a choice by bad health habits, and ultimately regardless of choice the baby is also born dependent to a drug. This is a much more acceptable disease in terms of society. Mostly because we as a general public, have very little of the real information on how drug addiction really works. It is a disease whether we are willing to accept that yet or not. For many, this disease is brought to the forefront, as Peppy mentions, because of bad economic, social, and lifestyle pressures. Lack of education, self esteem, and many other issues can cause someone to test this disease, and for many they lose this test. I have seen people who have this addictive personality who never test illegal substances or even prescription meds for that matter, but who cannot find the self control to stop over eating, i have seen someone who if they wanted watermelon would eat an entire watermelon in one sitting. For others it’s an inability to manage their shopping/spending problems. Again these are not illegal so we as a mass don’t care. So, lets punish these moms for their illegal act which is the drug possession and treat them for their diseases. I know that Utah, like many other states, has many programs to help drug addicts but has very long waits to get into these programs and the state does not have the money or man power it needs to treat everyone that needs help. All in all we are failing these poor women, we need to understand addiction better and support the programs built to treat and help addicts.

  5. Barbara says:

    A God called Drugs the problems the victims.

  6. Peppy says:

    Drug addiction, like pregnancy, is a status not a crime. If we lock up women who give birth to babies in withdrawal, what of the mothers who engage in other types of high-risk behaviors? There are women who smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol while pregnant. These women place their babies at risk every time they engage in high-risk behaviors which hold no legal consequence. At the very least one could argue that a pregnant smoker should be charged with child neglect under child welfare statutes.

    The United States spends about $15 billion a year fighting illegal drugs and yet America’s deadliest drug epidemic has fifteen-thousand Americans dying annually from overdosing on prescription painkillers…

    The criminalization of expectant mothers who give birth to babies in withdrawal from illegal substance abuse is a back door entry to feeding an inherent discriminatory system. Allowing the most vulnerable, marginalized individuals of our society to remain imprisoned within the larger social issue of poverty. Issues which include more than a lack of economy and continue to feed an insufficient system of education, health and adequate housing and until the real deficiency is addressed we will linger on the hamster wheel, recreating old jurisprudence with newer language and continue to refer to it as legislative reform.

    This excerpted from an article I wrote on this very subject in October of last year. If you would like to read my full opinion on this matter please follow this link: http://thestudentappeal.com/op-ed/a-drug-addicted-pregnancy

    Thank you for allowing me to post my opinion.
    Peppy

  7. Ashley says:

    I think it should be treated as both a disease and a crime.cause addiction is a disease and the use of said illegal drugs is infact a crime. She shouldn’t be charged for child abuse at all. Because a fetus is said to not be considered a human being until birth ( which is up for debate) not saying I agree. She should be charged for possession and use of a controlled illegal substance and then treated as a disease along with the child.

  8. I think in terms of the unborn fetus it should be treated as a crime. If the woman knows the damaging effects that drugs and alcohol can have on the baby and they continue to use then they should be punished. The punishment may be a wake up call for them.

  9. I think it should be treated as a crime. no woman should ever take illegal drugs while pregnant with a helpless child, i am saying this based off my sister who has dealt with an addiction to prescription medicines for a long time and she was actually getting a prescription for narcotics from a doctor.her first child was removed from her home by protective services because of domestic problems and her second child was born with drugs in its system mostly xanax and lortab and ect. but the baby my niece was born on time at 40 weeks and 5 lbs and was taken from my sister 4 days after she was born because of the baby was born with withdraws and having a hard time breathing, it was hard for me to think that my sister could have been so stupid and careless to take drugs while she was pregnant . my other sister stepped in and now has my niece and she is now two and still has problems , she is kinda slow , she doesnt really talk yet or when my sister brought her home from the hospital she was such a difficult baby and never wanted to be held or nurtured she likes to play alone and all of her learning problems and delays are because my sister smoked dope and took medicine when she was pregnant so yes i do think people should be punished further than having their kids taken from them , my niece has to live with those problems for the rest of her life and my sister didnt get punished .. and thats justice not being served…

  10. Ava Winfrey says:

    Yes, they should absolutely be charged… and there are a ton of women also abusing "perscription meds" also…

  11. Sara says:

    Now a days ABSOLUTELY YES!!!! Doing drugs, smoking, drinking after knowing you are pregnant, is absolutely horrible, it is just like doing them when you are holding your baby in your arms….worse actually since the poor little thing absorbs everything you do. Mother should be held accountable, you chose to make your baby that way….there should be a name for it so that it is prosecuted more often…..like "intentional fetus abuse" or something along those lines. If there is a name, I guess I havent seen it??

  12. carly says:

    Manda, what planet are you from? Prescription are/can be just as danger as street drugs. Just because a doc prescribes them doesn’t mean they are "safe" to abuse.

  13. Rebecca says:

    Allison,
    I feel like I should correct you on your post. Unborn babies can actually feel pain beginning at 9 weeks gestation. Also, abortions can be performed up to 24 weeks of gestation, not 20. And after 24 weeks there has to be a medical reason. It’s confusing to see that you seem appalled by the fact that she did drugs after the legal time for an abortion, but didn’t get an abortion. Would an abortion have been better for the baby? Sure, he wouldn’t have had to go through the withdrawal, but then he also wouldn’t have this new adoptive family who was willing to take him even with the risk of birth defects, and stay by his side while he went through withdrawal. Most families can’t even stand to do that with an adult, I can only imagine how hard it is to watch an innocent child go through the pains of withdrawal.

  14. Allison says:

    I doubt this woman was using drugs perscribed for her. and while i know sometimes the mother has to take meds like that most of the time there are alternatives. this lady is a junky most likely not a person who has a real medical condition that requires those meds. i doubt she was under the care of a physician at all unlike you who has a medical issue and is trying to take care of yourself your other kids and your pregnancy. i hope everything turns out ok for you.

  15. Allison says:

    I couldn’t agree more.
    good for you with the anxiety meds, i went off my zoloft while pregnant with my second son because of the possible side effects (before the lawsuit crap) i knew if they were screwing with my hormones they would screw with his thats just common sense. my cousin went off her seizure meds while pregnant with hers for the same reason. sadly for her it was a lot more of an issue than it was for me she was unable to drive for nine months and had to have constant supervision just in case but her son was born healthy which is all that matters.

  16. Allison says:

    yeah she ought to be charged, i think any woman who continues to ingest substances that are harmful to the baby after the legal time for abortion should be charged. whether it be smoking or drinking perscription drugs or illegal drugs. These women know all these things are harmful to the baby. There is a reason why people can’t have an abortion at all after 20 weeks (depending on development of fetus) its because they get the brain functions to feel pain after 26 weeks its plausible that they can survive and as science advances more likely they will live. they know after what thirteen weeks maybe twenty that they cant get an abortion, honestly for most woment after thirteen weeks they know they arent going to get one. but they dont go get the services to solve one problem or the other. those services are available for free if need be either rehab or AA or abortions. and you know what most perscription drugs do warn people not to take them if pregnant. all pain killers except i think tylenol and ibuprofen in low doses tell you do not take if pregnant. and i cant help but notice the article didn’t say they were even her perscription drugs just perscription drugs. and she didn’t give up the baby so he could have a better life she gave him up so she wouldn’t sit in prison for the next few years. addiction isn’t a disease its a flippin choice people need to stop acting like these people don’t chose that path when they do. she chose to start the drugs, chose to keep taking them, chose not to get help when she got pregnant, and chose to keep taking them through out her pregnancy knowing the effect it would have on the child. no pity for her or people like her. if he had died as a result of her drug abuse i would hope that they would charge her with 2nd degree murder. it may have not been an attention to hurt him but she knew the result of her actions for the duration. yeah i’m guessing she isn’t even going to prison just a rehab facility. thats way to good for her.

  17. Colleen says:

    She should definitely be charged with child abuse. There is no better time in a woman’s life to turn her life around then when she is carrying another human being inside of her. If she had taken things seriously and received treatment while pregnant, that’s one thing, but to sit there and continually ruin this baby’s body and not even think of what it’s doing to him/her. That’s irresponsible and selfish. I even took myself off my anti-anxiety meds while I was pregnant. I used different techniques to keep myself calm, and they still work to this day.

  18. manda says:

    She did use street drugs and they are different from medication that a doctor gave her that were safe for her. So she is all in the wrong. Poor baby. My he have a blessed life with his new loving family!

  19. misty depaul says:

    if shes doing illegal drugs yes. but if shes prescribed something that could possible harm the fetus and she needs it then no. I have some health problems that arose this pregnancy and I have to take class c meds. I get to the point to where my body is in so much pain that I have to because I have to be up and around taking care of my other children. I go to like 5 different doctors right now and am on a bunch of medication so I can keep my baby and keep taking care of my other children. many people look down on that but if you absolutely have to that you gotta do it. I just wanted to make it clear to all people that a lot of pregnant women run into bumps on the way but its no excuse to take illegal drugs or meds that aren’t prescribed to you. it is ok for someone to take meds when absolutely necessary. if she was doing illegal drugs while she knew she was pregnant than there is a major problem with that and she should be charged.

  20. manda says:

    Yep. She should go to prison just like any other child abuser!

  21. jessica says:

    Well it depends on what the drug they have been taking and if it was prescribed medication then that is another story ,There is many pregnant women who go thru a "high risk pregnancy " which in that case depending on the condition of what all is going on ,and in that case you are stuck in between saving your life and childs its a 2 way street,so I say YES to street drugs ,but No to being prescribes something that will with whatever condition weather it be a liver problem or diabetes ,and pre E ,there is several differnt things that medication will help but also could harm baby,its a chance that you iether take or choose not to take.

  22. hiskitten92 says:

    yep. Women know better and are told through out the pregnancy by their doctor it’s a big no no.

  23. Kimberly says:

    Honestly Yes, they are knowingly endangering that child.

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