July 19, 2011— -- Eileen Bower of Pennsylvania is suing the Lawrence County Department of Children and Youth Services for taking custody of her newborn son after she tested positive for opiates, a result, her lawyer says, of her eating poppy seeds.
Stanley T. Booker, Bower's attorney, told ABC News that Bower gave birth to her son July 13, 2009. A routine blood test performed by Jameson Hospital uncovered the presence of opiates in her system.
"They contacted Lawrence County Children and Youth Services and got a court order to take custody of her child on July 15," Booker said. Bower regained custody of her child 75 days later.
But before giving birth, Bower ate a salad with dressing that contained poppy seeds, which Booker believes led to the positive test result.
"There were only trace amounts of opiates -- they couldn't even put a range on the amount," Booker explained.
After the initial blood test, the hospital sent the blood to an outside laboratory to confirm the result, which came back the same.
"But even before the confirmatory test results, they contacted CYS and there was an order to take custody."
Neither Jameson Hospital nor the Department of Children and Youth Services returned phone calls from ABC News, but according to the American Civil Liberties Union's web site, the hospital's policy is to perform drug tests on all new mothers and submit positive results to the Department of Children and Youth Services.
Both Jameson Hospital and the county's child protection agency are involved in a nearly identical case involving another woman whose child was taken as a result of a positive drug test. Elizabeth Mort said she ate an everything bagel with poppy seeds on it shortly before she gave birth to her daughter. She filed her lawsuit last October.
Mort, who is represented by attorneys from the ACLU, released a statement after her suit was filed.
"When CYS showed up at my house and told me that I tested positive for opiates, I was shocked. I had to ask what opiates were, and they had told me it was a drug," Mort said.
Toxicologists said that if trace amounts of opiates were found in Bower's blood, they didn't necessarily come from poppy seeds.
"It depends on the nature of the hospital's test, but when it comes to poppy seeds, you would have to eat a lot more than salad dressing to get a positive presumptive test," said Chip Walls, director of the Forensic Toxicology Laboratory at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine.
"A positive blood test is more than likely not from consuming poppy seeds, but it's not out of the question," said Bruce Goldberger, director of toxicology at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville.
Both experts emphasized that it didn't mean there was an illegal drug present, either.
"To be sure, a hair test could be quite useful," Goldberger added.
Urine tests are more commonly used to screen for drug use in hospitals. Federal guidelines say that if a drug is present in the urine below a certain concentration, the test is considered negative. For occupational drug testing, the threshold is 2,000 nanograms per millileter, but for non-workplace testing, the threshold is 300 nanograms per milliliter.
Insititutions that perform drug testing should always perform a second confirmatory test after getting a positive presumptive test initially.
"If you're going to take legal action, the initial positive result should be confirmed by other testing," said Walls.
Booker said that one reason for filing the suit was to force the hospital to change its drug testing policy. His client's test came back with only trace amounts of opiates, and he said the hospital requires 300 nanograms per milliliter for the test to be considered positive. But Goldberger said the 300 nanogram threshold didn't apply to blood.
Bower also wants to spare other families a similar ordeal. Although she has regained custody of her son, Booker said he now has problems in forming attachments, which could stem from he initial separation.
"He is very clingy to her," Booker said. "He screams and cries when she leaves the room. She doesn't want other families to go through the nightmare she went through."