County jail's latest problem pregnancy, heroin

 Officials: One in three pregnant inmates is a heroin addict

By Heather Lynn Peters
The Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) — Jessica Marshall is a heroin addict. She’s also an expectant mother at the Muskegon County Jail who was recently sentenced for a probation violation to another 200 days behind bars.

Marshall, who is detoxing in the county jail, isn’t alone, according to The Muskegon Chronicle.

The overcrowded, aging jail that is currently being renovated and expanded, has a new problem: Heroin-addicted mothers. Officials say one in every three pregnant inmates at the Muskegon County Jail comes in as a heroin addict.

Marshall, 27, is among at least four other pregnant inmates currently lodged at the jail. Some have been there for months; others are waiting to be sentenced.

In Marshall’s case, she will remain there until close to her October due date — a decision made by Muskegon County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Hicks who sentenced her on May 19 for a probation violation.

The judge said he felt the baby was better protected in the confines of the county jail than if Marshall was back out on the streets faced with temptation to use drugs again.

Marshall can’t dispute that logic.

This is her second in-jail pregnancy. The first time she came to jail pregnant, just over a year ago, she had to detox in the jail until she was released. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, she said.

“I was in here for a good amount of my pregnancy. I got out three weeks before he was born. I kept praying, please get me out before I have this baby,” she said.

For this pregnancy she is taking methadone to fight the demons involved with heroin. She found out she was pregnant shortly before being lodged on the most recent probation violation and after testing positive for heroin while on tether from a retail fraud offense.

The young mother has two other children — the oldest no longer in her care.

“I need help,” she said. “I think God intervened at the right time. I’m not in the streets and not around that lifestyle.”

Those with a heroin addiction make up just one of many issues involving the care of pregnant inmates, according to county jail officials.

“We get a lot of girls who come in here who are far along in their trimesters and they haven’t been to a doctor,” said David Lopez, an LPN who is the Muskegon County Jail Health Services administrator.

“Another big problem with some of the inmates is the illicit drug use while they are pregnant. They are on heroin and take methadone when they come in. So now we’re not only treating the inmate, but we have to make sure the health and welfare of the baby is good, too.”

Lopez estimates 100 pregnant inmates with heroin addictions have been lodged in the county jail since 2012.

The cost to house a pregnant addict at the jail isn’t much more than housing a pregnant inmate in general. It costs about $14 a month to treat the heroin-addicted mothers with methadone, Lopez said.

“The heroin problem in Muskegon is rising,” Lopez said, adding that there are about two to three heroin-addicted inmates — male or female — lodged at the jail during any given week.

Hicks said with any pregnant inmate sentencing, there are many factors to consider, especially if there is a substance-abuse issue. While judges like to keep the jail population down the best they can, there are some cases, even minor, that jail time can be viewed as a better option.

“When I sentence someone, I consider three things: How can I ensure that the victim doesn’t have to go through this again, the danger to the public and then I look at rehabilitation prospects and go from there. But when someone is pregnant that sort of upsets the whole hierarchy,” Hicks said.

“She’s carrying the child and, (if an addict), the child is a victim and the health of the baby jumps near the top of the line. The jail isn’t the ideal situation (for a pregnancy) but we’re often faced here with picking between two or three bad choices.”

Marshall’s baby is due Oct. 11. She’s been in jail for more than 100 days already and now has another 200 or so to go.

During her May 19 sentencing, she appeared nervous. She teared up when she spoke to the judge and had her handcuffed hands over her slightly bulging belly.

She told the judge she is determined not to relapse this time for the sake of her unborn child.

“I know I can do the inpatient treatment. I want to do what’s best. I need help,” she told Hicks.

She expressed embarrassment, remorse, fear and restlessness during an interview in jail.

“I want to get out of here. I want to go home. It’s very lonely.”

Marshall has five misdemeanors on her record and a juvenile court history. But she did qualify for the state’s “swift and sure sanctions probation program” which is an intensive supervision program “that targets high-risk felony offenders with a history of probation violations or failures,” according to the Michigan Department of Corrections website.

Those who participate with the program are monitored closely and are subjected to frequent random testing for drug and alcohol use. That means Marshall will have to abide by the rules of the program and not waver or, as Hicks said, she will likely end up in prison.

Marshall said she’s up for the challenge and just wants to get better. She’s been addicted to heroin for four years. She’s also a past marijuana user.

It’s time for a change, she said, and hopes her unborn child isn’t addicted to the methadone she is taking while in jail. Methadone right now is her only means to get off the heroin for good, she said.

“I take it every day,” she said of the methadone. “I take the lowest dose possible. There’s a chance the baby is going to be OK.”

According to a 2012 Associated Press article, the number of U.S. babies born with signs of opiate drug withdrawal has tripled in a decade because of a surge in pregnant women’s use of legal and illegal narcotics, including Vicodin, OxyContin and heroin, researchers say.

It is the first national study of the problem released by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The number of newborns with withdrawal symptoms increased from a little more than 1 per 1,000 babies sent home from the hospital in 2000 to more than 3 per 1,000 in 2009, the study found.

“More than 13,000 infants were affected in 2009,” the article stated.

The newborns aren’t actually addicted to the drugs, the research shows, but their bodies are dependent on methadone or other opiates because of their mothers’ use during pregnancy.

Small methadone doses are used to wean the newborns off these drugs, which researchers say is safer than cutting them off completely, which can cause dangerous seizures and even death, the article stated.

Lopez said he urges the addicted mothers to breast feed in an effort to gradually wean their children from the methadone.

“While you are pregnant and you’re taking methadone, that makes the baby addicted to the methadone,” he said. “You can run the risk of a spontaneous abortion” among a number of other health issues for the baby.

Meanwhile, Hicks said several agencies get involved in some cases, such as Child Protective Services and Department of Human Services, to determine what’s best for the child.

The rise in addicted, incarcerated pregnant women is an issue that’s beginning to affect a number agencies, he said.

“It’s not just her, it affects her child,” the judge said. “There is a huge ripple effect in cases like this.”