In 2015, a baby boy only known as ‘Baby Doe’ was born addicted to opioid painkillers. His first few days of life were spent in an agonizing withdrawal in the neo natal unit. Three Tennessee prosecutors and the baby’s guardian have teamed up together and filed a lawsuit against several manufacturers of opioid painkillers. The prosecutors claim the drug companies used deceptive marketing tactics which ultimately downplayed the risks of developing an addiction to opioid medications.
Filed in June, at the Sullivan County Circuit Court in Kingsport, Tennessee, the infant boy who was the driving push behind the suit is known to have survived his battle. The extent of impact which the addiction had on his health is yet unknown.
The three prosecutors represent different areas of the east Tennessee Mountains; an area plagued with prescription drug abuse including opioid painkillers, sedatives, and benzodiazepines. Their lawsuit is one of many throughout the country which are standing up against the drug manufacturers and saying enough is enough.
The announcement of the suit was made at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, about 25 miles south of the Virginia state line. Recently the hospital has added a special neonatal intensive care unit which focuses on treating infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. The facility is one of the first in the area because it has be inundated with babies begin born addicted to opioid medications. Standardized treatment begins with small doses of methadone or morphine to help alleviate the withdrawal. As the baby is weaned from the drug, he or she is monitored 24 hours a day to ensure their health remains stabilized. The effects of addicted born children can be devastating and have lifelong effects including cognitive impairment and learning disabilities.
Tennessee has the second highest opioid prescription rate in the country after West Virginia. Prosecutors are suing the manufacturers and their subsidiaries for their marketing tactics which, they claim, were unlawful and downplays the risk of taking the medication. The lawsuit targets big pharma companies like Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, Mallinckrodt PLC, a manufacturers of various painkillers, and Endo Health Solutions, another manufacturer and distributor of painkillers. The suit also names two drug dealers who have already been convicted and an n alleged pill mill.
The goal of the Tennessee opioid lawsuits are to put a stop to the flood of opioid medications in the state and to recover an unknown amount of compensation for combating the problem. It is assumed that compensation to treat Baby Doe will also be included. The suit also seeks to make a Tennessee law that limits the amount of non-economic damages, like emotional anguish, and punitive damages invalid. The prosecutors say this law is unconstitutional.
When asked for comment on the issue, Mallinckrodt PLC says “We have broadly supported efforts to combat the opioid abuse health care crisis through a range of advocacy initiatives, direct lobbying campaigns, and charitable activities. We take our responsibility as an opioid manufacturer very seriously.” Meanwhile Purdue Pharma says “While we vigorously deny the allegations in the complaint, we share public officials’ concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions. At Purdue, we have dedicated ourselves to working with policymakers, public health officials and law enforcement to address this public health crisis, which includes developing abuse-deterrent technology, advocating for the use of prescription drug monitoring programs and supporting access to Naloxone.”
The plaintiffs’ lawyer says the suit is the opening salvo on war on opioid addictions in the state. He is quoted as saying “We expect this to be a long drawn out battle and we’re ready.”
As for now lawyers and legal professionals are maintaining a close watch on how this case will unfold. Proponents of the suit can only hope for big changes that have the ability to curb the epidemic and reduce the sheer number of babies being, unwillingly, born to opioids.