This Woman's Drug Record is Causing a Debate About Adoption

March 13th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

Should people with recent felony drug convictions be able to adopt? A 28-year-old mother in Virginia is forcing lawmakers in her state to deal with that touchy subject. 


Laura Tarantino told The Washington Post's Victoria St. Martin that a Virginia law is stopping her from adding to her family through adoption. The law restricts adoptions for would-be parents who had a felony drug possession charge in the last 10 years. Tarantino said she's written hundreds of letters to Richmond lawmakers in a push to to change the law and have potential adoptive parents evaluated on a case-by-case basis. 

“It is like someone driving their car through the new home I am trying to build,” Tarantino told the Post. “It hurts every bone in my body.”

heroin needle

However, lawmakers say the law is in place to make sure people don't slip back into drug use. Virgina state legislator Robert B. Bell (R-Albemarle) told the Post that while it's good Tarantino turned her life around, the state still has to protect children. 

"That’s great, we’re all happy for her, but the paramount concern for adoption is to make sure that we find the safest and best placement for these children,” he said. All states require background checks for adoptive parents, and each state has its on rules about felony charges, however the federal ban on adoption after a drug possession charge is only five years. 

Is relapse a significant concern in former heroin users who want to adopt? 


ATTN: talked to Glen Hanson, Ph.D., the director of the Utah Addiction Center and a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Utah. He said that there are a number of factors that determine whether someone is stable in their sobriety, and 10 years is not a magic number.

"I'm sure it's arbitrary in that i'm not aware of a study that says a person is truly clean at a certain point," he said. "You have to look at if they've detoxed and they've put their lives back together and they've become a regular citizen." 

However, the longer someone is clean, the more likely they are to stay clean, according to Hanson. He said that many drug users start using when they are in their early 20s, and would have time to mature after the 10 year period in their early 30s. 


"Now you're in your 30s and your brain has had a chance to mature," he said. "The further you're away from drug use the more likely you are to stay away from it."

However, Hanson also said that stress is a big factor for relapse. For some people adopting a child could be a stressful event. 

"One of the things that brings people back to heroin is stress and that's a common denominator for relapse," he said. "If this person gets into a situation of a lot of stress, how are they going to react? You would have to look at the individual and play it on a person by person basis."

RELATED: Who Sees a Drug Conviction on Your Record