In our ongoing effort to help children born addicted to or in withdrawal from opioids, we hosted an “Opioid Summit” at our offices in Louisville, Kentucky on May 14, 2018. We invited attorneys and other professionals from across the country to come to discuss and find solutions to the complex issues involved in handling opioid cases involving innocent newborns.
Babies can suffer Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) when their mothers are addicted to or being treated with opioids during pregnancy. Pregnant mothers using drugs such as oxycodone (OxyContin), methadone, buprenorphine, codeine, heroin and/or fentanyl pass these substances through the placenta to the fetus, resulting in the baby becoming dependent upon the drug(s). Infants born with NAS may suffer withdrawal symptoms requiring additional hospitalization and treatment. They may also suffer life-long disabilities as a result of the drugs.
The panel examined the newly established mass tort - the National Prescription Opiate Litigation, MDL 2804, to determine if cases involving NAS babies would be best served by joining this litigation or following a separate track. The National Prescription Opiate Litigation is based out of the Northern District of Ohio. The plaintiffs involved in this mass tort allege that the manufacturers of prescription opioids grossly misrepresented the risks of long-term use of those drugs for persons with chronic pain, and distributors failed to properly monitor suspicious orders of those prescription drugs--all of which contributed to the current opioid epidemic.
The meeting also examined how to and whether to work to hold manufacturers, distributors, corrupt pain clinics, pharmacies and/or doctors responsible for the suffering of these babies born into addiction. Causes of action against these parties may include, but are not limited to:
- Negligence (failure to take reasonable steps to prevent misuse and over prescribe)
- False Advertising/Marketing “off label”
- Nuisance (“whatever is injurious to health or is indecent or offensive to the senses”)
- Unfair Competition
- False Claims
- Unjust Enrichment
- Gross Negligence
- Civil Conspiracy
- Unfair/Deceptive Practices
- Insurance Fraud
- Negligence per se
The conference also included a presentation by the President and CEO of Volunteers of America (and The Freedom House), Jennifer Hancock. Ms. Hancock gave the panel personal insight into the lives of mothers struggling with addiction and the babies that are born into this struggle. She spoke candidly of families that have been destroyed by the opioid epidemic. She has witnessed babies born dependent on dangerous drugs and the serious neonatal health problems and the potential life-long side effects they face. Additionally, she detailed the crippling current and future medical costs that plague these families and the community as a whole. Finally, she offered hope that this crisis can eventually be stopped in its tracks with the right resources, diligence and attention.
The summit was adjourned with all members having a greater understanding of the significance of aiding the most innocent victims of the opioid crisis with an action plan to develop this important litigation.