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NAS: The Opioid Epidemic’s Tiniest Victims


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You’ve certainly heard of the opioid epidemic. Addiction. Death. Desperation. For the past two decades, drug manufacturers encouraged doctors to prescribe their painkillers while downplaying many of the negative side effects, mainly addiction. After an injury or routine surgery, opioids provide an excellent relief from pain so the patient can recover comfortably. No one chooses to be an addict, especially those who stayed away from drugs and innocently believed a pill from a pharmacy could cause no harm. Once they discovered opioids could relieve psychological maladies such as anxiety and depression, they continued to use the drug after their physical condition subsided. When they try to stop, they experience intense physical and psychological symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, cold sweats, body aches, and cravings. While plenty of adults battle addiction, a new victim has come into the limelight. The most innocent of all. Babies.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) occurs when a baby is born to an opioid-addicted mother. These babies are literally born addicted to opioids and experience withdrawal symptoms within 24 hours of being alive. Children exposed to drugs in the womb experience adverse symptoms such as tremors, vomiting, seizures, birth defects, and a detachment from their mother. Even as they grow up, they may experience developmental delays and attention problems later in life.

NAS is not only a problem for the child and mother, but for society as well. It can cost up to $60,000 to see an infant through the withdrawal process. The child must stay in the hospital for 2-12 weeks where he or she is treated in a special room that is dark and quiet, and sometimes even given small doses of morphine to ease the pain of withdrawal and then slowly wean off.

“In the US, the rate of children born with NAS has quadrupled over the past 15 years. In East Tennessee, the number of children needing intensive treatment for NAS has become so overwhelming the hospital opened a new ward this year just to take care of them. Since 2009, the hospital staff has treated over 1,800 babies with NAS.”

Dozens of counties, cities, and states have filed suit against manufacturers and distributors of opioid medications. The East Tennessee suits allege that the companies engaged in a concerted effort to mislead doctors and the public about the need for, and the addictive nature of, opioid drugs. The drug companies shirked the blame. Mallinckrodt claims it does not promote opioid products and plans to file a motion to dismiss. Teva said it is committed to the appropriate use of medication and complies with all relevant federal and state regulations. Endo did not comment on the pending litigation but reassured it supports the needs of patients while preventing misuse. Even Purdue, the manufacturer of the controversial drug Oxycontin, claims it is dedicated to being part of the solution and is making efforts to work with law enforcement and prevent the abuse of its products. Despite these assertions, Purdue has paid millions in fines and settlements over the years, while Mallinckrodt is currently involved in a $35 million settlement with the Department of Justice.

Often times when women who take opioids become pregnant, they switch to a maintenance drug (still an opioid) like methadone or suboxone. Some doctors believe this is harmless. Adam Newman, a Kingston-based family physician and addiction treatment specialist, says “There is no clear association between opioids taken in pregnancy and birth defects or adverse pregnancy outcomes.” This is a questionable claim given the evidence of children struggling with NAS.

If you take opioids and are pregnant, it would be wise to get several physician opinions on what course of action to take. If you or a loved one have given birth or are still pregnant and taking these dangerous and addictive drugs, contact our law firm. We have decades of experience successfully prosecuting large pharmaceutical companies on behalf of our clients. Call our Houston office at 713-622-7271 or 800-622-7271 toll free, or contact us via our website contact form. We represent clients nationwide who have been injured by prescription opioids and other pharmaceuticals.




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