Filed Under:  Health & Wellness

Pharmaceutical industry sued over infant opiod addiction

5th March 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Ryan Whirty
Contributing Writer

Citing “false representations and concealments… made with the intent to deceive Louisiana consumers,” petitioners filed this month a class-action lawsuit against the pharmaceutical industry calling for the protection, treatment and compensation of children born addicted to opioids and suffering from an array of resulting disorders.

The lawsuit, filed in the 22nd Judicial Court for St. Tammany Parish, charges more than 20 defendants within the pharmaceutical industry — including drug-production companies, pharmacies, and distribution contractors tasked with convincing doctors and other medical providers to prescribe opioids — with willfully withholding information about opioids and using deceptive advertising regarding such drugs.

Specifically, the lawsuit cites the dramatic rise in Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in infants born to opioid-addicted mothers. While the general opioid epidemic in the United States has received a great deal of media coverage and solicited much political and public concern, the lawsuit filed this month raises the issue of the crippling effect the drugs can have on children of addicted mothers. opiod-addicted-infant-03051

As such, the recent class action is believed to be the first such lawsuit of its kind in the nation, and the plaintiffs in the case are hoping the pharmaceutical industry in Louisiana can be held accountable for the allegedly deceptive tactics they used to boost profit at the expense of the public in general and infants specifically.

“It was a huge lie,” said Dr. Brent Bell, one of the lead medical experts backing the action. “There was a lot of misinformation, and a lot of providers bought into it. [The drug industry] bamboozled everybody for a long time.”

Scott Bickford of the law firm Martzell Bickford and Centola of New Orleans said children affected with NAS not only have very difficult infancies, but, if they survive their first few years, they often develop additional disorders and conditions as they age into adolescence, such as ADHD and emotional volatility.

“The plaintiffs in this case are the innocent children who were victimized, if you will, by being exposed to opioids,” Bickford said. “As they progress as children, these kids can face lifelong issues.

“We’re hoping we can address the wrong done to children in Louisiana,” Bickford added. Added Bell: “The boys get angry, the girls get depressed.”

The lead plaintiff in the case is Tyler Roach on behalf of his infant son, initials K.E.R., who was born addicted to opioids and suffering from NAS. K.E.R.’s pregnant mother became addicted to opioids while being treated for an auto accident. As a result, K.E.R. required intensive medical care after birth. Now three years old, K.E.R. has endured behavioral, speech and hearing therapy and, according to doctors, faces a very real possibility of lifelong mental deficiencies from being exposed to opioids while in the womb.

The lawsuit vividly describes the conditions that faced K.E.R. after birth, when the child was diagnosed with NAS, which involves the sudden, severe opioid withdrawal symptoms in infants. “K.E.R. was forced to endure a painful start to his life; crying excessively, arching his back, refusing to feed, and shaking,” the lawsuit states. “…K.E.R. spent his first days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit writhing in agony as he went through detoxification.”

However, while Roach and his son are the lead plaintiffs, the lawsuit is a class action case representing many infants suffering from NAS, as well as their families.

“K.E.R.’s experience is part of an opioid epidemic sweeping through the United States, including Louisiana,” the lawsuit says, “that has caused thousands of infants great suffering and continual developmental issues. This epidemic is the largest health care crisis in U.S. history. K.E.R. brings this class action to eliminate the hazard caused to public health and safety caused by the opioid epidemic and to abate the nuisance caused by Defendants’ false, deceptive and unfair marketing and/or unlawful diversion of prescription opioids.”

The lawsuit cites several allegedly deceptive, well-funded practices on the part of the pharmaceutical industry to increase the companies’ bottom line, such as understating the possibility of opioid addiction from long-term use; relying on insufficient, incomplete studies and data to push their products to medical providers and patients; and treating doctors to dinners and other events at which deceptive presentations were made.

The suit also refers to legal and medical precedents established in other states, such as Florida and New York, as support for its filing.

Ultimately, in addition to holding the pharmaceutical industry accountable for its alleged misinformation campaign, the recently filed lawsuit hopes to solicit damages from the defendants that can be used to increase access to treatment programs for NAS-afflicted children, and to conduct further research and enhance the quality of existing treatments to combat the crisis.

“These babies need money to address the individual damages sustained by opioid addiction,” Bickford said. “They need access to treatment and the ability to diagnose [NAS].”

This article originally published in the March 5, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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