At least one mother is celebrating a win over drug testing madness. Elizabeth Mort ate an everything bagel for lunch and later that day went to hospital to have a baby. While there, a drug test was done where a small level of opiates was found in her blood. Never told about the drug test results, the hospital notified child protective services and got an order to have her 3 day old baby removed from her care. Guilty by definition, the mother lost her child by eating a bagel. Luckily for the family, it only took a few days for everything to get resolved and the child returned to her parents. Afterwards, the parents sued and won. You can find details across the web including:
The horrific part of this story is our reliance as a society on inaccurate drug test, the willingness to define guilty and convict based on scant evidence, and the misunderstanding of how statistics apply. Not only can up to 5 percent of the drug tests (1 out of 20) tests be a false positive; but it is a known fact that poppyseed bagels can cause false positive results for opiate drugs like heroin. The hospital used a standard of 300 nanograms per milliliter while the federal standard is 2000 nanograms. The standards used were 7 times more strict than recommended levels and no questioning had been done to understand the test results. We’ve had similar insane events with the 5 year old kid suspended from school for chewing a pop tart into the shape of a gun and congress with the CSPIA lead standards for toys. We’ve adopted simple “just say no” and the problem goes away standards and combined it with a very real ignorance about science and statistics that leads to the insanity of removing a child from her mother because she ate a bagel.
This blind adherence to misunderstand can ruin lives or in the least case, induce panic when false results are used. I know because I too had a false positive on a drug test and it almost cost me my career. I too ate a bagel before taking a drug test. It was my first job after graduate school and we needed the money. Bob and I were both unemployed; looking for work. We had a kid (Maggie) who needed to be fed. We had no money and no home. Instead at the age of 32, I had moved with my family back home and we lived on borrowed money from Bob’s parents. No health insurance so when I got bronchitis, I used cough drops and tylenol to mask the symptoms. When the job offer from BAE Systems arrived, it seemed a miracle. A good job (plenty of money), near my in-laws (housing and childcare while we got started), and best of all related to my field of work (computer cartography). I WANTED THAT JOB. A drug test should have been no problem. So I was devastated when told the job was rescinded. The comment was made I had taken so much heroin and opiate’s they had no idea how I even managed to drive to the drug testing facility.
Of course I protested. I paid (with borrowed money) for my own drug tests. And I made them verify the results. Eventually, all was resolved and I was able to start working at BAE Systems. After several months, I got the drug test results. A single sheet of paper, it had a hand-written note “Disregard Drug Results” written across the top.
And interesting foot note is several years later, I’m having a security clearance interview. In this interview, I mentioned the drug test and how it still makes me feel uneasy. Now these security investigations are very thorough, before beginning you have to sign a paper allowing full access into any record desired. School records, medical records, financial, library books, and tax records are fair game. So the security people know a lot about a person. But human resources had managed to hide this drug test, so security did not know about it. And the woman whose name I forget made the comment “I can’t believe you would ever take drugs” meant it. She knew my history.
But I know this drug test existed. And I’m still scared of false positives. And I’m scared that someone will find the test and misuse the results. If I had not been able to plead a case and prove my innocence, our family life would have been very different. I probably never would have gotten another chance to work in a technical industry and my ability to support the family would have been jeopardized. Elizabeth Mort and her daughter deserve every dollar they won in that lawsuit. I hope it gives them some comfort for the terror caused by ignorance and our just say no policies.