In Philadelphia, a law firm is taking action to file a class-action lawsuit against some opioid manufacturers on behalf of babies born addicted to opioids or otherwise affected medically by their exposure to drugs in the womb.
John Weston, an attorney from Sacks Weston Diamond, brought the suit Friday on behalf of an anonymous baby boy and his mother. Similar to other lawsuits filed by states, counties, and municipalities, he believes that this case is the first of its kind, at least in the state of Pennsylvania. Other states have chosen to file lawsuits sometimes, usually on behalf of babies diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Many of these babies suffer severe withdrawal effects from the lack of opioids in their system, as well as birth defects, racing heartbeats, and other medical symptoms. Most lawsuits are merely seeking monetary help from the pharmaceutical manufacturers for the treatment and study of the long-term effects.
Weston admits the lawsuits are similar to others filed against opioid manufacturers and distributors in recent years. “It’s just a different group of plaintiffs—children exposed to opioids in the womb who display symptoms of withdrawal at birth.
“You can argue about who’s at fault,” he said, “but it’s certainly not the kid.”
The lawsuit details that babies with NAS often face long-term adverse health outcomes that are still sometimes unapparent. Babies with NAS display excessive crying, fever, and tremors from withdrawal that tend to go away within days or weeks. Some research shows that children with NAS also suffer from behavioral, cognitive, vision and movement problems down the line.
Experts say the science isn’t settled completely, and there are other obstacles to proving the pharm companies are at fault. Many women expose their babies to milder opioids as they struggle to get clean using medication-assisted treatment such as methadone or buprenorphine. These drugs may be necessary evils – research shows that abruptly quitting opioids increases the risk of miscarriage.
The majority of pregnant women in treatment for opioid use disorder in Pennsylvania end up taking buprenorphine products (like Suboxone or Sublocade) or methadone. In the past year, the rates of pregnant women addicted to painkillers has been higher than ever before.