In 2014, a young Tennessee mother named Brittany Hudson gave birth to a drug addicted baby and was charged with assaulting her unborn child. To many, this may seem like justice. After all, giving a baby such a traumatic start in life seems incredibly cruel, but what the law doesn’t take into account is that it can be really hard for an addicted woman to find help, whether she is pregnant or not, says Hudson.
She was instrumental in persuading legislators that women like herself needed help rather than time in jail and a criminal record. And with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse reporting that only 11% of people who need help for drug addiction actually receive treatment, there is certainly supporting information that even those most horrified by the thought of drug addicted babies have to take into account before any blame can be apportioned.
What happened to Brittany Hudson?
Brittany began using alcohol and opiates when she was still in her teens, and by the time she fell pregnant in her early twenties, she was well and truly addicted. We have to remember that apart from the lack of help available to those suffering from addiction, the stigma of addiction is a significant barrier to getting help.
Founder of the Global Drug Survey, Dr. Winstock, points out the shame and stigma of drug use in women is far greater than it is in men. Simply declaring your addiction and asking for help is enough to bring down a firestorm of disapproval, and if you happen to be pregnant too, you can expect to be treated with contempt an indignation rather than kindness and supportiveness. As a result, women who desperately need help remain silent, hoping against hope that nobody will uncover their secret.
Help addicted women for the sake of their babies
“Babies need their moms,” says Brittany, “and you have to help the mom for the baby to born clean.” She currently works in a rehabilitation center, providing support for pregnant women who want to break free of addiction for the sake of their unborn children. She maintains that help for women such as herself and those she works with isn’t sufficiently available, and wants to bring the issue to the public’s attention so that this situation can be changed.
She says that she really did seek help when she became pregnant with Braylee, but she was told there were “waiting lists” and she couldn’t afford to wait. Knowing that she could be arrested for giving birth to an addicted child, she avoided doctors, even giving birth to her daughter in a friend’s car, but the child needed medical attention owing to the addiction, and Brittany ended up behind bars, detoxing on the floor of a prison cell.
Treatment and resources, not litigation
Brittany has been clean for nearly two years, and now has joint custody of her daughter who was taken away from her shortly after birth. She says that what women need is treatment, but the resources just aren’t there. Treating people who have been snared by a habit they just can’t quit as criminals doesn’t provide a solution, and it can even increase the risks for babies born addicted, as mothers may avoid medical personnel just as Brittany did.
She says that people often ask her what her thinking was at the time, but she has little recollection of that. She only knows she sought help, and couldn’t find any. So she went underground and hoped for the best, with predictable and tragic results.
Changing attitudes towards those with addiction issues
Brittany says that these days, people can’t believe that she ever had an addiction problem. She’s a sprightly young mom who works hard to help others, and that just doesn’t fit the “image” of a drug-addict as a selfish and deeply disturbed member of society.
It is exactly this attitude that prevented Brittany from getting help in the first place. Regarding drug addicts as criminals who deserve punishment, rather than patients who need help, is one of the first important changes society has to make if we hope to see fewer babies born with addictions transferred to them by their mothers.
That’s what Brittany is working towards, and as compassionate members of society, it is an attitude we need to learn. If we have never been addicted, we cannot possibly understand the terrible situation that men and women suffering from addiction are in. Without understanding, we cannot point fingers, stigmatize people or judge them. Certainly, jailing them offers no constructive solution. In fact, reports from around the world indicate that drugs are easily available in prisons. Jailing addicts offers no solutions and magnifies the tragic effect of addiction on the families and children of drug addicts.