House Bill 1100 will be signed into law this week by Governor Hickenlooper. The bill allows pregnant women to enter treatment for substance abuse without being prosecuted for using illegal drugs. Chair of the House Health and Environment Committee, Representative Ken Summers, is sponsoring the bill. Before running for office, Representative Summers spent 28 years as an ordained Pastor of an evangelical denomination and has served as an Executive Director of a faith-based nonprofit organization that rehabilitates individuals fighting substance abuse.
He told Catherine Strode, Coordinator of the Health Care Advocacy Program, this personal experience motivated him to sponsor HB 1100 to protect the unborn children of moms who are addicted to drugs. Following is an excerpt from that interview:
If a woman has abused illegal substances, and is pregnant, how does this bill support her efforts in intervention?
“What the bill says is that in criminal proceedings, information related to substance abuse that is obtained during a screening or test performed during pregnancy, is not admissible. This is where the bill itself -we’re not overly prescriptive in the bill. We worked actually closely with some of the individuals through our Human Services Department and the Substance Abuse Task Force and the Attorney General’s office to craft something that was not overly prescriptive to create issues, but as part of the follow-up to the bill. A lot of legislation happens not so much as what is articulated specifically in law, but what happens as a result of that law being applied. So there will be some concerted efforts now from the state …to encourage women, all women, to get the proper treatment if they’re pregnant; and, …to make sure that those health care providers, doctors, OBGYNs, who are interfacing with that woman, know that if you suspect or think that this woman is abusing illegal substances whether it is divulged in an interview or that which is detected through an actual medical test, that it is important for you to get that woman referred to treatment.”
So the bill was really a perfect match for your own personal passionate pursuits in social rehabilitation?
“It really was. Because of that it was really something that I could identify with and understand the need for, and it was more than understanding it from a remote policy standpoint. I could understand it because of the women that we deal with and the programs that we have. When we look at it, you know we think of the challenges where women who are abusing substances are having children. We talk about intergenerational poverty. We’re in a situation now where we’re seeing more and more intergenerational substance and drug abuse. We have women who are mothers of children who’ve got addicted to drugs because of their mother when they were young. For example, one of our moms said ‘I first started using drugs when I smoked pot with my mother when I was fourteen years old.’ Now she’s an adult with a baby but now it’s not marijuana, it’s meth, and is finally dealing with her addiction issue.”
What variety of groups came together to make this bill happen?
“When you look at it, I carried the bill, but it was really the work of the Drug Endangered Children’s Task Force, the Division of Behavioral Health, and Denver Health in their psychiatric drug and substance abuse department. And so we had those organizations coming together. The March of Dimes came out in strong support of the bill because they realized this was about child protection. So with their efforts at mitigating the impact of disabilities that happen during pregnancy, the March of Dimes was very much in favor of the bill and recognized the value of it. The bill, while it can be somewhat misleading in its simplicity, really does have the intent of intervention and protection. Intervention for the mom; protection for that unborn child to make sure that we can minimize the devastating impact of substance abuse on pregnant women.”