Anyone who has been paying attention knows that America is in the grips of a serious public health crisis related to opioid usage. The incredibly addictive drugs are tearing away at families across the country, including many right here in Mississippi. No state, no community is immune from the trouble that has plagued many families, jeopardizing people’s jobs, futures and, most importantly, their health.History of Opioids
It is important to be clear about the problem. First, what are opioids? Opioids refer to a very powerful class of drugs that are routinely prescribed (and all too often overprescribed) by doctors to treat a variety of symptoms, usually associated with pain management. Examples of opioids include things like Methadone and Oxycodone (which exists in OxyContin and Percocet), Hydrocodone (which is in Vicodin), Morphine (which is Kadian and Avinza), Codeine, Fentanyl, Tramadol, and most alarmingly, Heroin.
Although heroin is an illegal street drug, the others are all perfectly legal pharmaceutical products that doctors dole out regularly. Even though opioids can be helpful in treating a range of conditions, including those with short-term and chronic pain, they present a serious health risk. The trouble is that opioids are incredibly addictive, meaning those that need the drugs the most quickly find themselves dependent. Compounding the problem is the fact that people develop tolerance for opioids, so for them to continue working as well as they initially did, these people have to repeatedly increase their dosage, a dangerous game that can end in tragedy.
Some critics of pharmaceutical companies argue that the addictive properties of opioids were not fully disclosed to doctors and patients in the early years. Marketing and other efforts made by the companies to sell more drugs allegedly glossed over serious risks associated with their usage, something that may have facilitated the boom in prescription numbers. The stunning volume of prescriptions sold combined with their addictive attributes are the two key reasons we are in the midst of an epidemic today.Serious Injuries Associated with Opioid Use
Though many people are aware of the horrors associated with opioid usage, few are aware of the especially insidious side effects of the explosion in opioid use: Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and Birth Defects.Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)
NAS is a group of conditions caused when a baby withdraws from the opioids he or she is exposed to in the womb before birth. When you take opioids during pregnancy, they can pass through the placenta and cause serious problems for your baby. The placenta grows in your uterus (womb) and supplies your baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. Not only can opioid use harm the adults with chronic pain conditions who have been taking the drugs for months or years, it has been shown they can cause serious harm to innocent unborn children. Given that many doctors and patients may not have been fully aware of the harmful side effects of opioids by the manufacturers, mothers would continue taking the drugs despite becoming pregnant. Some would even continue taking the drugs while breastfeeding. The consequence of this is that babies are being born addicted to opioids, just like their parents. When the child is born or stops breastfeeding, he or she will experience withdrawal symptoms, just like an adult addict. This withdrawal is not only painful, but carries with it the potential for even more serious problems, such as physical disabilities (see Birth Defects, below), mental and developmental impairment, and NAS. A child with NAS can suffer from the condition for decades, meaning a lifetime of costly medical care awaits, all because of a drug the child never intentionally consumed.Birth Defects
Some of the most severe issues for babies whose mother was on opioids at the time of pregnancy can include:
- heart defects and congenital issues
- spina bifida (or neural tube defects)
- cleft palate or cleft lip
- hydrocephaly or the build up of fluid in the brain
- Gastroschisis or a defect in the abdominal wall
- premature birth, requiring a stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
- poor intrauterine growth
Though you may think this impacts only a small number of unlucky families, the numbers are truly shocking. Experts believe that anywhere from one to just under six out of every 1,000 births each year involves a woman who took prescription opioids during her pregnancy. This presents serious risks for their children, resulting in, on average, one infant with NAS being hospitalized every hour in the U.S. Across the country, the rate of children born with NAS has quadrupled over the past 15 years, with no sign of slowing down.
If you or someone you love knows of a child who may have been exposed to opioids during pregnancy or while being breastfed and suffered harm or injury as a result thereof, please take a moment to reach out to our experienced attorneys at Kobs & Philley at (601) 856-7800 for more information and a free consultation. It is possible that the child may be able to receive compensation for the harm he or she endured.