MEDICAL-LEGAL TEAM MOVES TO PROTECT AND HELP OPIOID AFFECTED INFANTS AND CHILDREN IN LOUISIANA
Louisiana has one of the highest dependency rates on Medicaid insurance in the nation with over 1.4 million Medicaid enrollees, and unfortunately one out of every five Medicaid-served mothers consumed opioids at some point during their pregnancy resulting in numerous babies being born addicted, according to a medical-legal team which took its case to protect opioid-affected infants to court in Louisiana, which to the best of the lawyers’ knowledge is the first of this type in the country. The suit seeks funds to treat and protect these opioid dependent babies, children and youth.
A key party to this team is Kanwaljeet J. S. "Sunny" Anand, the nation’s foremost expert on opioids and infants and a Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Perioperative & Pain Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine.
“There is an unprecedented epidemic of opioid addiction sweeping across the U.S.,” said Dr. Anand. “Newborn babies are the most vulnerable citizens, their lives and developmental potential are disrupted by Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), but arrangements for their short-term and long-term care have been ignored until now. Babies like K.E.R. need strong advocacy and legal action to ensure that their rights are protected, and that they urgently receive essential medical care and rehabilitation.”
The plaintiff in the case is Tyler Roach, on behalf of his child K.E.R. and those similarly situated and born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. K.E.R.'s mother's life was derailed by opioid addiction following a car accident. Due to the neurotoxic effect of opioids on the unborn child, K.E.R. needed medical attention following birth. Now three years of age, K.E.R. has undergone behavioral, speech and hearing therapy and may forever face mental deficiencies due to being exposed to opioids in his mother’s womb.
“Use of prescription opioids during pregnancy increased from 1.2 to 5.6 per 1000 births per year, leading to sevenfold increases in the total NICU days attributed to NAS,” said Dr. Anand. “On average, one infant with NAS is hospitalized every hour in the U.S. It is high time that the medical and legal communities stand up to demand comprehensive treatment and care for the most needy and vulnerable citizens of our great country.“
“The worst part of the growing opioid addiction problem in America is that it has unintended victims: the unborn and the children of their parents who became unwitting users due to over-prescribing of these meds for everyday pain,” said Dr. Brent Bell, one of the lead medical experts in the team which filed suit in the 22nd Judicial Court for St. Tammany Parish.
The class action lawsuit is filed on behalf of all children afflicted with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) born in Louisiana because their mothers consumed opioids in Louisiana during pregnancy. NAS is a clinical diagnosis and a consequence of the abrupt discontinuation of chronic fetal exposure to substances that were used or abused by the mother during pregnancy.
“National studies of Medicaid-enrolled women by the Centers for Disease Control found that 21.6 percent filled at least one opioid prescription during pregnancy,” said Dr. Bell. “As the opioid epidemic has spiraled out of control across our nation, so to has the harm that has been caused to infants across the country. As of September 30, 2016, child and family assistance spending related to the epidemic was about $6.1 billion.”
“We are seeking to make the child victims of opioid addiction, to the greatest extent possible, whole,” said Celeste Brustowicz, with Cooper Law Firm. “But that is only part of it. We have an obligation to bring forward this class action to eliminate the hazard to public health and safety caused by the opioid epidemic and to hold fully responsible those whose actions created this crisis.”
Named as defendants in the suit are an array of pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors and retailers, all of whom netted millions if not billions of dollars due to unfair and deceptive trade practices that preyed on all Americans, including the unborn, say the attorneys. To establish and exploit the lucrative market of chronic pain patients, the defendants developed a well-funded, sophisticated, and deceptive marketing and/or distribution scheme targeted at consumers and physicians, according to the suit.
“Facts show that pharmaceutical drug companies and their distribution partners exaggerated the benefits of opioids and downplayed risks and consequences,” said Scott Bickford, Martzell Bickford & Centola A.P.C. “They knew the drugs were being overly prescribed yet failed to warn doctors of the extremely addictive nature of the narcotics and the need to strictly limit and monitor the dose. Because of the willful wrongdoing of the defendants, an opioid addicted baby is born every 19 minutes in our country.”
The lawsuit also argues that access to treatment services are woefully insufficient to meaningfully improve outcomes related to opioid addiction abatement, noting that the 2012 National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services data indicate that only a small percent of outpatient-only substance abuse treatment facilities and of residential treatment facilities offered special programs for pregnant/postpartum women; within hospital inpatient treatment facilities, a significantly smaller percentage offered special programs for pregnant/postpartum women.
“The only way we will ever be able to truly win the war against opioid addiction and those who have profited from the production, distribution and sale of opioids is through providing access to treatment options,” said Ms. Brustowicz. “Hospitals and drug rehabilitation centers must have the means necessary to address addiction. That is the only way we can hope to end this crisis.”
To download the lawsuit: http://www.brylskicompany.com/press-releases/roach-petition
For more information contact: Attorney Celeste Brustowicz (504) 566-1558 or Larry Centola (504) 581-9065.
For media interviews with Dr. Bell/Dr. Anand, other members of Opioid Justice Now or any additional materials: C. Brylski/D. Johnson (504) 897-6110