There have been many headlines lately regarding opioid lawsuits. There is a massive group of lawsuits brought on behalf of cities and counties in front of U.S. District Judge Dan Polster pending in Cleveland. Those cities and counties asked for and received designation of a “negotiation class” to try to cut a deal with the big drug companies.
Meanwhile, the most innocent victims of the drug epidemic are in danger of being left behind. Any recovery from the municipality claims will be spread far and wide and will not help injured individual children, who were pushed into the litigation in front of Judge Polster and then shoved aside and largely ignored.
Children born opioid dependent deserve individual treatment and individual recoveries that address their individual harm. Although we appreciate that Judge Polster is sympathetic to the plight of these children, given the expansive nature of the litigation, the individual treatment these children need and deserve is unlikely to occur in the near future. Accordingly, these children should not be lumped in with the cities and counties, but rather should be treated individually in their home districts.
It cannot be disputed that Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (often shortened to “NAS”) is devastating. Symptoms include birth defects, seizures, tremors, abnormal heart rate and other cardiac problems, breathlessness, fever, sleeplessness and vomiting, to name just a few. These babies cry inconsolably from the pain due to withdrawal. Costs to care for babies with NAS can be nearly 20 times greater than costs for babies without NAS.
But these problems don’t just go away as the babies grow. These children suffer physical and cognitive developmental problems. Some of these issues are permanent. We see it in our preschools and elementary schools. Special education classes are overcrowded. These problems are everywhere; indeed, many of us know at least one family raising a child born with NAS.
Grandparents, aunts, uncles, foster parents and others step in to care for these children when their own parents are absent due to addiction, incarceration or death by overdose. The affected children will already suffer from the severe trauma of having lost a parent, but they will also have to combat the lasting physical and cognitive problems caused by an opioid epidemic they had nothing to do with creating.
The volume of opioid shipments to our tiny towns is staggering, and the damage done is catastrophic. States, cities, counties and hospitals are seeking recovery for these losses. And they should be. But the fact remains that the cost of care for babies with NAS through childhood (and beyond) is drastically greater than for those children who are not affected.
Simply put, funds need to be set aside to help care for these kids. They need to be protected. These infants and children should be considered individually in any discussion of settlement with manufacturers and distributors that contributed to their suffering. Until then, their cases should be out of the massive litigation pending in Cleveland federal district court.