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Kentucky State Laws On Drug Testing Newborns

by Landmark Recovery

November 4, 2020
A woman holding her hands in a heart shape over her belly.

In the United States, there is a growing problem with addiction. From alcohol to opioids, and marijuana to cocaine, 21 million Americans report struggling with substance abuse.

While addiction in any population is problematic, it is especially concerning among pregnant women.  Around 7% of women report using opioids during pregnancy, with over 20% of those women reporting misuse of their prescriptions. 

Over a span of 15 years, maternal use of opioids more than quadrupled in the United States. 

Addiction In Kentucky

Within the state of Kentucky, substance abuse is rampant. Hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians report using drugs, and each year over 1,000 people die from opioid abuse. 

Addiction in Kentucky has created a plethora of problems, including:

Pregnant mothers are facing addiction problems, as well. While the rate of maternal addiction in the United States as a whole is far too high, the rate in Kentucky is astounding. 

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

A pregnant woman holding her belly in a field outdoors

When a pregnant woman is addicted to drugs and uses the drugs throughout her pregnancy, she passes the addiction on to her child in the womb. The drug of choice passes through the woman’s placenta to the baby, which causes the baby to become dependent on the substance just as the mother is.

When the baby is born, it is addicted to the drugs and experiences neonatal abstinence syndrome. This is essentially withdrawal from drugs and other substances.

Signs and Symptoms

Just as an adult experiences withdrawal symptoms, so will a newborn. Some of the expected symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome are:

  • Fever and sweating
  • Inability to gain weight
  • Low birthweight
  • Jaundice
  • Problems eating
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizures
  • Sleep problems
  • Tight muscles
  • Tremors and twitching
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • And more…


While some babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome will go on to live their lives free of complications, others will need specialized care in the NICU. Some are also likely to face problems throughout their lives.

There are many difficulties that can be faced by babies born with NAS, and some of these include:

  • Behavioral and learning issues
  • Developmental delays (delays in walking, talking, etc.)
  • Higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
  • Lack of social skills
  • Problems with motor function and muscles
  • Problems with sleep
  • Vision, speech, and hearing problems

Rates of NAS In Kentucky

When reading all of this data, you can see that addiction rates in Kentucky are higher than in the US population as a whole. The same applies to maternal addiction, as well as rates of neonatal abstinence syndrome.

In the United States, 7 out of every 1,000 babies are born with NAS. In the state of Kentucky, 23.6 out of every 1,000 babies are born with NAS. That’s a whopping 34% increase in babies who are starting life with withdrawal symptoms.

Early Intervention Is Key

A woman holding her hands in a heart shape over her belly.

The state of Kentucky passed a law authorizing drug testing of babies born to mothers who had reported or were suspected of drug use. It is one of only 4 states to do so.

Requirements For Testing

There are specific guidelines for administering drug testing on newborns. For a provider to order drug testing on a newborn baby, certain qualifications must be met, including:

  • History of maternal drug use
  • Lack of prenatal care
  • Placental separation without cause
  • Central nervous system complications in the newborn (seizures, etc.)
  • Withdrawal symptoms in the newborn
  • Drastic behavioral changes in the newborn

How Testing is Performed

When maternal drug use is suspected, the doctor will order laboratory testing to confirm or rule out drug use. While drug testing newborns, the laboratory will take a sample from the baby’s meconium or urine, and in some cases the umbilical cord to determine if there are drugs in the baby’s system.

What Happens if Baby Tests Positive?

When a baby tests positive for drugs, the hospital will do all they can to keep the baby comfortable through the withdrawal process. 

The hospital will also inform protective services that there is a baby suffering with NAS. The state of Kentucky considers this child abuse, and the mother will be in legal trouble for risking the health of her child. 

Mothers in Kentucky are given the option to relinquish their parental rights, or to seek professional addiction treatment within 90 days of birth.

What To Do Next

Here at Landmark Recovery, we have the skills and tools to help you and your loved ones through this process.

Whether you are trying to recover from an addiction before becoming pregnant, or you are seeking treatment after your baby has tested positive for drugs – we want to help you.

With locations in Louisville, we are within reach to most mothers in the great state of Kentucky. 

Contact us today at 888-448-0302 and let us help you on the road to recovery.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.