Madison County prosecutor considers charging moms who give birth to drug-dependent babies

ANDERSON, Ind. - The Madison County prosecutor is considering criminally charging mothers who give birth to drug-addicted babies in hopes of getting the women into treatment.

According to Community Hospital Anderson, 20 percent of the babies born there have been exposed to drugs. Hospital staff tell FOX59 they have seen an uptick in the number of newborns who need treatment for withdrawal symptoms. County prosecutor Rodney Cummings said he believes that number is too high.

"If you're consuming drugs, you have to know the impact that’s going to have on  your baby," Cummings said. "It’s so incredibly selfish to inject drugs like heroin and meth when you're pregnant. And, it's unacceptable and it shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere."

Babies who are born addicted can face a tough start to life. Nurse Courtney Wold from Community Hospital East says these small patients are easily over-stimulated, don't eat or sleep very well, and don't grow at a normal rate.

Cummings said charges like neglect or battery may be appropriate in some cases.

"I think we need to take a look at strongly charging those mothers who are doing heroin and meth when they’re pregnant," he said. "It’s an outrage."

Similar strategies in other states faced opposition from people who say addicts should be seen as patients not criminals. Cummings says he, too, believes treatment should be the ultimate goal. He said he would like to see mothers choose a treatment program instead of time behind bars.

"Most often, treatment occurs if they don’t want to do long terms in jail," Cummings said. "I haven’t seen anything more effective than that."

The Madison County Prosecutor's Office is currently researching whether it has the legal authority to charge moms in these types of cases. Cummings is also in communication with local hospitals and the Department of Child Services to determine what kind of protocol would need to be put in place.