FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 23, 2022
On February 22, 2022, the District Attorney in Lauderdale County, AL dropped an unprecedented felony charge for Unlawful Possession or Receipt of Controlled Substances (“Unlawful Possession”) against Kimberly Blalock, a mother of six. The charge was based on the claim that Ms. Blalock had engaged in prescription fraud by renewing her longstanding prescription to manage her chronic pain during her pregnancy. Ms. Blalock is represented by National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) and local counsel Brian White.
Ms. Blalock gave birth to a healthy baby on September 29, 2020. Four years earlier she had been prescribed hydrocodone to manage chronic and ongoing back pain due to the degeneration of discs in her back. Her pain was heightened after she experienced complications following gastric sleeve surgery and later got into a car crash. She continued to receive hydrocodone pursuant to a prescription by a licensed orthopedic surgery specialist. Ms. Blalock did not take her hydrocodone prescription for the majority of her pregnancy, but resumed taking it when her pain became unbearable at around 34 weeks.
Ms. Blalock’s indictment on February 23, 2021 was the first time a prosecutor has ever used the Unlawful Possession statute to charge a woman for renewing a longstanding, medically necessary prescription to manage chronic pain during pregnancy. The prosecution dropped the charge, but only after Ms. Blalock agreed to submit to a drug test and clinical assessment, both of which confirmed that Ms. Blalock is not using any non-prescription drugs and has no substance use disorder (SUD).
“I never imagined that taking my prescribed medication would lead to a felony charge and the most terrifying period of my life,” said Ms. Blalock. “Ever since a group of armed police officers showed up at our home, my children have lived in fear that their mother would be taken away from them. I suffered severe depression and withdrew from everyone I loved. I am so happy that I no longer need to live in fear and can focus on my family.”
“We are grateful that Ms. Blalock is finally able to close the door on this traumatic chapter of her life,” said Emma Roth, staff attorney at NAPW. “When someone becomes pregnant, their preexisting medical conditions do not suddenly cease to exist. Ms. Blalock only took her prescribed medication to ensure she could get out of bed and care for her older children. Pregnant women with chronic pain deserve compassion and quality healthcare. They should not live in fear of criminal convictions.”
An Alabama senator, as well as medical experts in maternal-fetal medicine, addiction medicine, neonatology, and pediatrics in Alabama, all spoke out against the prosecution. Dr. Brian Brocato, an obstetrician with expertise in substance use in pregnancy, wrote along with two former colleagues: “Kim Blalock took medications that were prescribed to her, trusting her physicians that they were safe for her. In our opinion, when prescribing any medication, it is imperative the provider ask women of reproductive age if they are possibly or could become pregnant. Opioids are not contraindicated in pregnancy, but women should be counseled regarding the risks and benefits and be allowed to make an informed decision about the use of opioids in pregnancy.”
Dr. Stefan Kertesz, an addiction medicine expert who serves on the Alabama Governor’s Opioid Overdose and Addiction Counsel, worked alongside the defense to urge the prosecution to drop the charge. He said, “I was so happy to contribute in bringing this challenging situation to a humane conclusion. Stopping or weaning of prescription opioids is not recommended or required by any of the major government agency documents that address the situation of a pregnant woman on long-term opioids. Conversely, several suggest that nonconsensual weaning could introduce new risks to the patient and baby to come.”
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