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Murder via Breastfeeding: A Crime Made Possible by Opioids

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine has long stated that even infants of new mothers battling addiction can benefit greatly from breastfeeding. However, the organization does recognize the varying circumstances at play when mothers are addicted to drugs.

In Pennsylvania, one mother has been charged with criminal homicide after her 11-week-old son died from a combination of amphetamine, methadone and methamphetamine transferred through the mother’s breast milk.

While this circumstance is unusual, it is not unprecedented. Similar cases have occurred in recent years in California, South Carolina and Washington. This most recent case revives the public debate over whether women in such scenarios should be punished as criminals or given help to recover from their addiction. Lawmakers and law enforcement officials tend to side with the former, women’s groups and medical groups with the latter.

A complicated situation

The National Institute of Drug Abuse estimates that about 5 percent of pregnant women use at least one addictive substance. Many of these women end up taking prescribed opioid medications to manage cravings, prevent withdrawal and lessen the risk of miscarriage.

However, even exposure to legally prescribed medications at monitored levels can still result in withdrawal symptoms for newborns. They might spend a significant amount of time hospitalized getting oral morphine or methadone to break the drug dependence they were born with.

Still, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, among other groups, states women on methadone maintenance therapy should breast feed their children, saying there is a “very low transfer of methadone in breast milk.”

It is a complicated case that will likely be analyzed in great depth as it proceeds. For further guidance if you’ve been placed under arrest, meet with knowledgeable drug crime defense attorney David R. Eshelman.


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