Newborn Drug Screen Laws

By Elizabeth (Lisa)Thompson

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Public health and child advocates agree that substance abuse by pregnant mothers raises numerous complexities for the welfare of the mother, but especially the child. According to the National Pregnancy and Health Survey, 5 percent of the four million women who bore children in 1992 abused illegal drugs while pregnant. No national legislation exists for newborn drug screening laws; in 2003, the federal government passed the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act, which requires states to pass their own legislation on newborn drug screenings.


Arizona Revised Statute 13-3620 requires that health care professionals immediately report the suspected presence of alcohol or drugs in a newborn to Child Protective Services. For the purposes of this statute, a newborn is defined as 30 days of age or younger. Medical personnel can determine this through the mother's substance abuse history, medical non-compliance, poor weight gain and a variety of other factors. The newborn should not only be tested for substance abuse but for withdrawal risk. Risk factors for the baby include low birth rate, unexplained sleep apnea, high pitched cry, excessive sucking, vomiting and diarrhea, to name just a few.


The state of Washington does not have a specific policy for newborn drug screening. However, hospitals must comply with guidelines set forth by Child Protective Services and perform drug screenings to determine appropriate medical treatment for the infant. As mandatory reporters, medical personnel are required to report positive toxicology screens. Risk factors in Washington for the testing of newborns include preterm birth, jittery or irritable actions, seizures, neurological issues and other related factors. The mother must be notified of testing but does not need to agree to testing for herself. Medical personnel should thoroughly document rationale and conversations regarding testing.

New York

In S6431, the state of New York provides drug rehabilitation to parents who test positive for alcohol or substance abuse and will also recommend drug court. Grants will be available to provide treatment to and to monitor the parent. The Commissioner of Health will establish, implement and evaluate a newborn drug screening program. Medical symptoms determine infant testing. After a positive drug screen, further investigation will be conducted to promote the newborn's safety.