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Arizona Mother Charged with Murder of Newborn; Breast Milk Allegedly Tainted with Heroin and Methadone


September-October 1997

In Tucson, Arizona, Amoret Powell was charged with murdering her 7-week old daughter, Eve Powell. Police say her heroin and methadone-tainted breast milk killed her baby. The father, Robin Johnson, was also charged with murder for not intervening (The Associated Press, "Mom's breast milk killed baby-cops say," August 1, 1997, p. 12; The Associated Press, "Police - Child died from heroin in mother's milk," August 1, 1997, p. 3).

Doctors put Eve Powell into intensive care after she was born on May 16, 1997 because she was dependent on methadone. Before sending Eve home, caretakers say they warned the mother, Amoret Powell, not to use heroin or methadone while breast-feeding because it could kill the baby. On July 10, Eve was rushed to the hospital suffering from severe oxygen deprivation, and died the next day.

In response to Powell's case, Stephen R. Kandall, M.D., chief of neonatology at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, stated "I know of no data suggesting that a combination of heroin and methadone in breast milk is a `deadly drug cocktail'." He discourages breast-feeding when a mother uses illicit drugs, but says it should be encouraged when she is "stabilized in a methadone program and is H.I.V.-negative" (Stephen R. Kandall, M.D., "Babies and Methadone," New York Times, August 9, 1997).

Dr. Stephen R. Kandall - Department of Neonatology, Beth Israel Medical Center, 281 First Ave., New York, NY 10003, Tel: (212) 420-4170.