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Tennessee Criminalizes Drug Use During Pregnancy

As illicit drug use continues to rise across the nation, some states have turned to legislation to help those suffering the effects of addiction. Unfortunately, some of these laws have many questioning whether they will provide more harm than help. Such is the case in Tennessee, where a woman recently became the first mother arrested under a new state law that criminalizes the use of illicit drugs during pregnancy.

Pregnant Woman Arrested After Testing Positive For Methamphetamine 

On July 8, 26-year-old Mallory Loyola was arrested shortly after giving birth to a baby girl at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. The baby tested positive for methamphetamine. According to local news station WATE-TV, Loyola, who has prior arrests for drug use, admitted to smoking meth only a few days before giving birth. She was charged with a misdemeanor and released on $2,000 bail.

Loyola’s case is notable not because of the way it ended, but because of how it began. She was the first, and so far the only, woman arrested under a new Tennessee law that went into effect on July 1. This law allows a woman to be “prosecuted for assault for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant,” if her infant is harmed by or addicted to the drug. The woman can even be prosecuted for homicide if the infant dies as a result of that addiction or drug-induced harm. However, defendants can avoid criminal charges if they complete a state treatment program.

Will Tennessee Regret Its Decision?

According to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, the goal of this law is to encourage expecting mothers to seek treatment as soon as they find out they are pregnant. The hope is that they will be able to conquer their addiction before harming their unborn child. “The intent of this bill is to give law enforcement and district attorneys a tool to address illicit drug use among pregnant women through treatment programs,” Haslam said after signing it into law in late April.

Despite the good-natured intent of the law, it has more than its fair share of detractors. “By focusing on punishing women rather than promoting healthy pregnancies, the state is only deterring women struggling with alcohol or drug dependency from seeking the prenatal care they need,” Thomas Castelli, legal director of Tennessee American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. Other critics call the law hypocritical for punishing women using drugs that have been criminalized, but not for using other threatening substances such as alcohol or tobacco.

Seeking Help

Regardless of whether Tennessee’s new law will be effective or not, its very existence reinforces an important lesson. Escaping the grips of drug abuse is not as simple as deciding you want to stop or acknowledging that it is dangerous for you and those around you. Addiction is a disease, and those suffering like Mallory Loyola need help overcoming it. If you or someone you love is in a similar situation, get the help you deserve today. Contact The Watershed Now!


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