Chicago-Area Woman Alleges Poppy Seed Cake Led to Positive Opiate Test

The woman said hospital staff rejected her explanation that she may have tested positive for opiates because she had eaten a poppy seed cake

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A suburban Chicago woman alleges that a hospital tested her for drugs without her consent before she gave birth, resulting in a false positive for opiates that she attributes to a poppy seed cake but which led to months of monitoring by state child welfare workers.

The National Advocates for Pregnant Women and the ACLU of Illinois filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights on the woman’s behalf against the AMITA St. Alexius Medical Center for carrying out the “discriminatory, non-consensual drug test of a first-time mother.”

The 46-year-old woman gave birth via cesarean section to a premature but otherwise healthy boy in April 2021 at the Hoffman Estates hospital. She said hospital staff rejected her explanation that she may have tested positive for opiates because the day she was tested and the day before, she had eaten makowiec, a poppy seed cake that’s a traditional Polish Easter dessert.

“I never imagined that enjoying a traditional Polish cake at an Easter celebration would create suspicion that we would not care for our child,” the woman said Thursday in a news release.

The woman and her husband, who live in the DuPage County city of Wood Dale, emigrated from Poland in 2001.

She said she told nurses and doctors she had not taken any drugs, and the only possible explanation was that it was a false positive because of the poppy seed cake.

The woman alleges that a doctor and nurse brushed off her concerns despite research showing it’s possible for people to test positive for opiates after eating poppy seeds.

She alleges the hospital violated the Illinois Human Rights Act by testing her urine for drugs without her knowledge or consent and reporting her to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services based on a false positive result.

“There’s no medical reason to drug test all pregnant people as they come in for medical care and these kind of blanket policies really deter pregnant people from getting treatment and support,” said Emily Hirsch, an ACLU staff attorney. “... She’s coming in and the only reason they’re drug testing her is because she’s pregnant, and that is a form of sex discrimination.”

Tim Nelson, a spokesman for Amita Health, said in an email that the health system can’t comment on pending litigation. He did not respond to questions about whether the hospital or Amita Health performs drug tests on all pregnant women who are admitted.

The woman, whose infant exhibited no symptoms of withdrawal, was taken to newborn intensive care before she was contacted by a hospital social worker to talk about the drug test results.

She explained again about the poppy seed cake but the social worker said the umbilical cord blood would still be tested. It tested positive for morphine, which is an opioid, and the social worker was required to report the matter to DCFS despite believing her explanation, the complaint states.

The state agency’s investigation lasted about three months. Though the case was terminated July 1, her file will be maintained for 5 years.

The Illinois Department of Human Rights can mediate and investigate complaints and issue findings. If it finds substantial evidence of the woman’s charge, the complaint can be taken to court or filed with the Illinois Human Rights Commission, among other outcomes, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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