(WBIR - Knoxville) One of Tennessee's newest laws is raising a lot of concern around the country. The law, which took effect on July 1, 2014, allows the state to seek criminal charges against a woman who uses drugs while pregnant.
Recently, Mallory Loyola, 26, of Madisonville became the first person in Tennessee to face charges under the new law. Loyola was arrested and charged with simple assault two days after giving birth to her daughter on July 6th. The Monroe County Sheriff's Office said Loyola and her young daughter both tested positive for amphetamine at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. Deputies said Loyola admitted to smoking meth three to four days before giving birth to her child.
On Wednesday, Lacy Weld, 27, of Dandridge was sentenced to 151 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release after she pleaded guilty in November 2013 to a federal grand jury indictment charging her with conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. Investigators said Weld used and made meth while she was in her ninth month of pregnancy. Her child was born severely drug-dependent and suffered from withdrawals for almost six weeks.
Many opponents of the new Tennessee law that jails women who use drugs while pregnant say while they understand the importance of protecting the child, they don't believe jail is the best option.
Bill Lee, assistant director for Cornerstone of Recovery,said, "Jail is not the answer. It may be a piece of the answer."
Lee said the biggest part of the answer is making sure treatment is available to those suffering from addiction. He said there's a severe shortage of drug treatment facilities throughout the state.
"There's not nearly enough. It's hard to get into a treatment program, but it's more than just a lack of beds," Lee said.
Another problem, according to Lee, is resources. He said many simply can't afford drug treatment.. And while there are treatment programs that specifically target those who are uninsured and under insured, the waiting list for those programs tend to be six to eight months long.
"For the addict, with this disease, if they don't go the day they say they're going to go then you can't get them. So waiting lists don't really help," Lee said.
Lee believes there needs to be a greater collaboration between the the legal system and drug treatment professionals to better help those in need.