Felony Child Endangerment for Prenatal or Breastfed Drug Exposure

Two Utah mothers have been arrested within the last month for child endangerment after their babies experienced prenatal or breastfed drug exposure.

Born addicted

Photo by: Sander van der Wel

A Tooele Utah mother was arrested late last month after her baby was born prematurely and with drugs in its system. 20 year old Shay Christensen gave birth to her baby just 1 week shy of her third trimester while in the bathroom during a prenatal appointment. While the preemie survived its premature birth, both mother and infant tested positive for illicit drugs and Christensen was arrested for felony child endangerment.

Tainted breast milk

Last week a 3 day old baby boy was rushed to the hospital in St. George after the infant stopped breathing and turned blue. During an investigation, a needle full of heroin was discovered in a diaper bag and the mother admitted it was hers. 29 year old Elizabeth Canon told police she had used heroin and then breastfed her baby multiple times. After ingesting the tainted breastmilk, the baby ceased breathing and CPR was performed until paramedics arrived. Canon was booked in the Washington County Jail on felony child endangerment.

Felony child endangerment

Utah Code 76-5-112.5 states regarding felony child endangerment:

(a)“A person is guilty of a felony of the third degree if the person knowingly or intentionally causes or permits a child . . . to be exposed to, inhale, ingest, or have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia; . . .
(b)A person is guilty of a felony of the second degree if the person engages in the conduct described [above]; and as a result, a child . . . suffers bodily injury, substantial bodily injury, or serious bodily injury; . . .
(c)A person is guilty of a felony of the first degree if the person engages in the conduct described [above] and as a result of the conduct . . . a child . . . dies.”

Both Utah mothers are facing second degree felonies since their babies suffered injuries due to the parent’s drug use; One being born prematurely and with injuries from the mother using while pregnant and the other’s respiratory system going into distress after being exposed to drugs while breastfeeding. A second degree felony in Utah is punishable by a possible prison term of one to 15 years as well as fine of up to $10,000.

Substance abuse during pregnancy

Photo by: Torsten Mangner

Both Utah women are suspected of using drugs during pregnancy and while many parents couldn’t imagine exposing an unborn baby or infant to drugs, it is more common than people think. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “there was a five-fold increase in the proportion of babies born with NAS [neonatal abstinence syndrome] from 2000 to 2012, when an estimated 21,732 infants were born with NAS – equivalent to one baby suffering from opiate withdrawal born every 25 minutes.” Although many pregnant mothers are able to get rid or unhealthy or dangerous habits for the sake of their unborn child, addiction is hard for many to overcome-regardless of their born and unborn children who are depending on them to stay sober.

Seek help

Those who are looking for help with substance abuse including parents or soon to be parents are encouraged to call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-622-HELP(4357). According to their website, “SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 265-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.” They go on to note “This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.” For legal questions or aid regarding criminal charges related to substance abuse and its effect on the loved ones of those suffering from addiction, contact a criminal defense attorney.


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