I'm The Mom Who Ate The Poppy Seed Bagel, This Is What People Need To Know

by Elizabeth Eden
Originally Published: 
Elizabeth Eden

I was recently the subject of a local news story that has since gone national: Poppy seed bagel behind woman’s ordeal at Towson hospital. As the title suggests, I tested positive for opiates while in labor with my second child. I am deeply appreciative of the coverage, but there were a few things about my story that couldn’t be addressed in a two and half minute report.

First of all, just to set the record straight, it was half of an everything bagel. Half. With strawberry cream cheese, but that really is irrelevant.

The morning this all began, I was thinking about eating a fast breakfast that would agree with a stomach that had rejected many things over the past nine months. I was thinking about making breakfast for my three-year-old and how to entertain her on a day off from school when I was feeling exhausted. I was thinking about making it to my 40-week appointment with my midwife so my husband could get to work at a reasonable hour. I was thinking about the air conditioner repair crew that had arrived at 8 a.m. to replace our aging system. I was thinking we needed orange juice and Band-Aids decorated with characters from the Trolls movie.

The one thing I certainly wasn’t thinking about was getting drug tested or having a false positive due to poppy seed ingestion. Frankly, I shouldn’t have been thinking about it because, as the more sensitive test revealed six days after my initial positive test, I had a value of 30 ng/mL of morphine in my system. 30. The hospital allegedly uses a threshold of 300 ng/mL for a positive drug test. Most employers use a threshold of 2,000 ng/mL. The Army’s threshold is 3,000 ng/mL. They set these thresholds to avoid false positives.

But my takeaway from the unlabeled hand-drawn chart without values that the chief of the department of OBGYN used to defend the hospital was that any amount of morphine will be taken as a positive result.

“What you can see on this graph is that if you set the bar here [no threshold number indicated or mentioned], you would only identify true positives, but you would also miss quite a few individuals who did use drugs and were considered screened negative,” Dr. Judith Rossiter-Pratt told WBAL-TV.

In so many words, the 300 ng/mL threshold is irrelevant and the true threshold used by the hospital is 0 ng/mL. I now believe that in an overabundance of caution on the hospital’s part, my birth experience was a casualty of the opioid epidemic.

In general, the response from the hospital has been dismissive and insulting. I have no faith that this won’t happen again to another new mom.

“We don’t typically educate patients, and it’s a really good point that people probably should know that if you use poppy seeds before you have a toxicology screen that it could result in a false positive test,” Rossiter-Pratt said.

In fact, upon coming public with this story, I have heard from numerous mothers who have their own false positive story. I know we are in the middle of an unprecedented drug epidemic and I want those families to receive the help they need. But sending the state down every rabbit hole means those resources are often spread far too thin. Educating expectant mothers would go a long way to solve this.

But the burden shouldn’t just be on moms to watch what they eat. Before this happened, I never would have thought to question a hospital’s testing procedures or policies. I had faith in the system. Even after it happened, I thought it must be an uncommon mistake. But if the moms I’ve heard from are just a sampling, then far too many are facing unnecessary angst when they should be focused on giving birth. I know the hospital only had my baby’s best interest in mind, but I believe having a healthy and happy mom is the first step in achieving this objective. We need hospitals to do better.

What’s the big deal, you ask?

Apart from being placed on a five-day state mandated hold and having to be away from my three-year-old for a total of seven days.

Apart from having one of the longest nights of my life on the pediatrics ward, struggling to care for my four-day-old daughter while still recovering from two days of labor and a C-section. Sobbing and alone because only one parent is allowed to stay overnight, my feet so swollen from edema that the skin had begun to crack.

Apart from feeling like I had to defend myself, often from accusatory looks and comments from hospital staff rather than focus on my brand new baby, there was the investigation by Child Protective Services. There was the threat that my baby could be taken from me.

How could I have faith in a system that had already accused me of being a drug addict based on a faulty test? I now have a closed case file on record that I will need to contact a lawyer to have expunged. It all seems an awfully high price to pay for half of an everything bagel with strawberry cream cheese.

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