Prosecution promised for drug use while pregnant

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By Donna Thornton/News Editor

Etowah County District Attorney Jimmie Harp asked people to consider how hard it would be to have someone introduce your 15-year-old to narcotics, and have the child become addicted.

“But even then, that child had some choice in it,” Harp said. All too often, he said, Etowah County medical professionals and law enforcement personnel are seeing children who had no choice – infants born to mothers who’ve used drugs during their pregnancies.

Both Harp and Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin said they plan to prosecute any cases of babies born with drugs in their systems.

Since 2011, three cases of chemical endangerment of children have been reported in Etowah County. Two of those cases came this May, when a 23-year-old Gadsden woman and an 18-year-old Attalla woman were arrested in separate incidents. Another case is under investigation at this time.

Entrekin said every expectant mother needs to know: “If that baby’s born with a controlled substance in their bodies, she’s going to jail.”

Pregnant women who are found to be using drugs can expect to go to jail, too.

“I’d much rather have a healthy baby born in the Etowah County jail than a drug-addicted baby born elsewhere,” Harp said.

Entrekin and Harp explained that in recent weeks they have been in contact with health care providers and the Department of Human Resources about incidents of baby’s born with drugs in their systems.

They plan to continue to work together to ensure cases are reported and prosecuted.

DHR Director Teresa Sauls said the department is notified when drugs are detected in a newborn. The department works then to ensure that a baby leaves the hospital and goes to a safe environment, whether it is with a family member or into foster care.

All the officials involved in the May 20 press conference at the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office said after an arrest, each case will be judged on an individual basis. The goal for all agencies involved is to see children properly cared for by their own parents. If drug-using moms can work through a program of rehabilitation and prove themselves capable of caring for their child, everyone’s best interest would be served by reuniting families.

However, Entrekin said, moms must know that they will not be allowed to endanger the lives and the health of unborn children by using drugs while pregnant without facing criminal prosecution.

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