How Will Opiate Big Pharma Address Thousands of Addicted Infants?
By Mark A. York (October 4, 2018)
See Mass Tort Nexus Briefcase MDL-2872 Children-Born-Opioid-Dependent-(Infant NAS) Filed September 20, 2018 for related Infant/NAS case filing information
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) Tens of thousands of infants born in the U.S. each year now have NAS, and a recent Centers for Disease Control report said the rate of NAS deliveries at hospitals quadrupled during the past 15 years. The period of hospitalization for NAS infants averages 16 days and hospital costs for a typical newborn with NAS are $159,000-$238,000 greater than those of healthy newborns, according to the attorneys representing the NAS (neonatal abstinence syndrome) babies.
With the filing of a New Motion to Consolidate Opiate Addicted Infant Case as MDL 2872 with the Joint Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, the fire may be lit to move the most vulnerable victims of the opioid crisis into the forefront of the litigation. Will this force Opiate Big Pharma to pay for 20 years of bad conduct in pushing opiate prescriptions on American commerce? See MDL 2872 Motion to Consolidate Infant-NAS Addicted Opiate Litigation
In West Virginia, home of the highest overdose rates in the nation, the foster care population has increased by 42 percent since 2014. Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, from 2013 and released in 2016, suggested West Virginia had the highest rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) of 21 states analyzed.
Later data collected by the state showed the state’s rate was higher than the CDC report indicated, said Christina Mullins, director of the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Office of Maternal, Child and Family Health.
The 2016 CDC report, which said NAS “occurs primarily among opioid-exposed infants,” showed that as of 2013, West Virginia’s NAS rate was 3.34 percent of all hospital births, a hair higher than Vermont’s 3.33 percent.
After those two states, the rate plummeted significantly, with Kentucky’s 1.5 percent being the next highest – although Maine, which had no data reported in 2013, did have a 3.04 percent rate in 2012, lower than Vermont’s then-No. 1 rate of 3.05 percent and higher than West Virginia’s then-No. 3 rate of 2.17 percent.
Mullins said the data previously came from hospital discharge data, and it’s not easily comparable across all states. She said that when the state began collecting real-time data in October 2016, it got a rate of about 5 percent of all births.
Mullins presented Monday to a legislative interim committee that heard several reports regarding likely impacts of the opioid crisis on kids and education.
The reports indicated that the state was No. 1 or No. 2 in the country in removing children from their homes; the number of youth in state custody increased 46 percent from October 2014 to October of last year; there’s been a 22 percent increase in accepted abuse/neglect referrals over three years; and 85 percent of open child abuse/neglect cases involve drugs.
The number of children in state or foster care hit a record low in Massachusetts earlier this decade. Since then, that number has risen by a quarter, and there are now more children in state care than ever before.
>States, Counties, Cities and others are suing opioid drug makers and distributor in both state and federal courts, see Mass Tort Nexus Briefcase “Opioid Litigation Versus Opiate Prescription Industry MDL 2804, US District Court of Ohio”
Opioid use by women in rural areas is driving the increasing numbers. Tennessee is part of a cluster of states, including Alabama and Kentucky, experiencing some of the highest rates of NAS births. In East Tennessee the problem is particularly acute: Sullivan County alone reported a rate of 50.5 cases of NAS per 1,000 births, the highest rate in the state for five years running.
In Canada, during the past decade, the number of babies exposed to opioids in the womb has increased 16-fold in Ontario. And according to Ontario’s Provincial Council for Maternal and Child Health (PCMCH), more than 950 infants were born to opioid-addicted mothers last year. Just over half of them will live the toughest days of their lives in their first week outside the womb.
Until the governments at the federal, state and local levels can all agree on a long-term viable solution to the opioid crisis and the impact on school age children, infants born addicted and society as a whole, the opiate drug crisis will linger for generations long into the future.
In Ohio, the number of children in state custody has grown by 28 percent since 2015. Foster care populations are up more than 30 percent in Alabama, Alaska, California, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota and New Hampshire since 2014. States like Illinois, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Colorado and New Jersey now adopting new approaches to help keep parents and children together, even as parents are receiving treatment for their addictions.
The opioid epidemic plaguing the nation is taking a catastrophic toll on our most vulnerable group, the children of the opiate addicts and those with substance use disorders. Many children are sent to live with grandparents or other family members, often due to a parent overdose or other addiction displays other problems but tragically, a growing number are being placed in the foster-care system, with many states unable to keep up with the demand from both a budget as well as staffing overload.
From 2013 to 2015, the number of children in foster care nationwide jumped almost 7 percent to nearly 429,000, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Children and Families, the 2016 to 2018 numbers have moved that number closer to 550,000. Parental substance use was cited as a factor in about 32 percent of all foster placements. From 2000 to 2015, more than half a million people died of an overdose, and currently 91 people a day die from opiate overdoses.
Unfortunately, many children, the indirect victims of the crisis, are not getting the care and services they need. “This is a neglected subpopulation,” says John Kelly, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry in addiction medicine at Harvard Medical School, and the founder and director of the Massachusetts General Hospital. “Because we’re trying to put out the fire in terms of stopping overdose deaths, we haven’t really been attending to other casualties, including kids most importantly.”
To lessen the long-term effects on children, psychologists are treating children in the foster-care system in outpatient, inpatient and residential treatment programs and in school-based mental health programs.
“Treating Women Who Are Pregnant and Parenting for Opioid Use Disorder and the Concurrent Care of Their Infants and Children: Literature Review to Support National Guidance. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28406856”
[STUDY OBJECTIVES: The prevalence of opioid use disorder (OUD) during pregnancy is increasing. Practical recommendations will help providers treat pregnant women with OUD and reduce potentially negative health consequences for mother, fetus, and child. This article summarizes the literature review conducted using the RAND/University of California, Los Angeles Appropriateness Method project completed by the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to obtain current evidence on treatment approaches for pregnant and parenting women with OUD and their infants and children]
Drug users’ children flooding to foster care
In Washington state, this number is alarming but not widely known, 10,000 high-school seniors said they used heroin or gotten high on opioid-derived painkillers in 2016, those numbers were about the same as two years prior, but foster care placements have surged.
Between 2011 and 2017, the state took children from drug-abusing parents nearly 14,000 times. Last year’s rate was the highest for drug-related causes since 2010 — up 16 percent over 2015 — while state hospitals report a steady increase in substance-exposed newborns.
Child-welfare workers hear complaints about increasingly severe problems in school — more physical violence toward peers, or kids who need to be taught separately — from students whose parents are staggering through addiction, said Jenna Kiser, who oversees intake at the state Children’s Administration.
Jenny Heddin, a state agency supervisor stated, “These numbers are very concerning, when children from these homes come into foster care, they can be very difficult to serve.”
This represent one corner of a national wave. More than 37 states report unprecedented numbers of kids entering foster care, many of them for reasons related to a parent’s substance abuse, according to the federal Department of Education.
Damaging children’s futures
By the time Child Protective Services is knocking on someone’s door, the problem is already severe. And so far efforts to respond might best be described as triage — focused more on addiction treatment than prevention, both in Washington and across the country.
As in many other states, political infighting prevents treatment, earlier this year Washington Gov. Jay Inslee proposed spending $20 million on a multipronged effort to combat opioid addiction. The bill never made it to the floor for a full vote, and it contained little funding for prevention. (But $1.7 million targeted for youth did get funding.)
Yet researchers warn that ignoring that aspect of the crisis virtually guarantees costly problems to come as the children of addicts grow into adulthood. Kevin Haggerty, a professor at the University of Washington who studies risk factors for drug abuse, authored one of the few peer-reviewed studies tracking life outcomes for these young people.
In the early 1990s, Professor Haggerty identified 151 elementary and middle-school children in Washington who were growing up with heroin-addicted parents. Fifteen years later, 33 percent had dropped out of high school. The vast majority were addicts themselves, and half had criminal records. Only 2 percent had made it through college. (Nationally, 33 percent of all kindergartners in 1992 grew up to earn a college degree.)
“The results are astounding at how poor the outcomes are, when having a drug-addicted parent,” said Caleb Banta-Green, principal research scientist at the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health.
“We need to be doing a lot more for kids being parented by opiate-addicted parents — and we’re not.”
“Families literally bring their problems to our door now to help them navigate their lives,” Harrington-Bacote said. “Public schools are doing things that fall way outside of regular academic education. But if they don’t, it’s not going to get addressed at all.”
OHIO EXAMPLES – HOW BIG PHARMA OPIOID MONEY DESTROYS LIVES
Way before social workers showed up in his living room this March, Matt McLaughlin, a 16-year-old with diabetes, had taken to a routine not of his doing, trying to scrounge up enough change for food while his mom, Kelly, went out to use heroin. On a good night, the high school junior would walk his neighborhood in Andover, Ohio to pick up frozen pizza from the dollar store, and on bad nights, he’d play video games to keep his mind off his hunger and unknown blood sugar levels.
When Matt was little, his mom Kelly was a Head Start caseworker who taught parents how to manage their autistic children and who hosted potlucks and played Barbie with Matt’s sister, Brianna. “Growing up, we were the house that everyone wanted to come to,” remembered Brianna, now 20. “I loved every minute of it.”
Kelly had neck surgery and got addicted to OxyContin, and by 2015, she was spending her days napping, disappearing for hours at a time, or going to her neighbor’s house, where she would exchange cash for packets of heroin. She started yelling at the kids, food became scarce, life changed for the worse, “It’s like her personality did a 180,” Brianna said. “I felt like I lost my mom to this pit that I couldn’t pull her out of.”
Ashtabula County Children Services answered a tip when someone called the police and urged them to check on the family.
She’d been to detox several times over the years, trying to rid herself of what felt like a demon that had taken over her brain. Last year, she managed to stay clean for 63 days, until a friend came over “and laid out a line—and that was all it took.” There are five heroin dealers within a five-mile radius and all are more than willing to provide an addict the opiate of choice, which is the norm for rural Ohio anymore.
Her kids were once again forced to pack their bags as Kelly would go to detox another time, they were lucky to have relatives nearby. The spiraling opioid epidemic has disrupted so many families that all the foster homes in Ashtabula County are full, with this story being repeated across the country every day.
The scourge of addiction to painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl sweeping the country has produced a flood of bewildered children who, having lost their parents to drug use or overdose, are now living with foster families or relatives. In Ashtabula County, in Ohio’s northeast corner, the number of children in court custody quadrupled from 69 in 2014 to 279 last year. “I can’t remember the last time I removed a kid and it didn’t have to do with drugs,” says a child services supervisor. Her clients range from preschoolers who know to call 911 when a parent overdoses to steely teenagers who cook and clean while Mom and Dad spend all day in the bathroom. Often, the kids marvel at how quickly everything changed—how a loving mom could transform, as one teenager put it, into a “zombie.”
The pattern mirrors a national trend: Largely because of the opioid epidemic, there were 30,000 more children in foster care in 2015 than there were in 2012—an 8 percent increase. In 14 states, from New Hampshire to North Dakota, the number of foster kids rose by more than a quarter between 2011 and 2015, according to data amassed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In Texas, Florida, Oregon, and elsewhere, kids have been forced to sleep in state buildings because there were no foster homes available, says advocacy group Children’s Rights. Federal child welfare money has been dwindling for years, leaving state and local funding to fill in the gaps. But Ashtabula County is one of the poorest counties in Ohio, and despite a recent boost in funding, the state contributes the lowest share toward children’s services of any state in the country.
More Broken Families, Less Funding
Ohio also has one of the nation’s highest overdose rates. In 2016, at least 4,149 Ohioans died of drug overdose—a 36 percent jump from the year before, according to the Columbus Dispatch. In 2015, 1 in 9 US heroin deaths occurred in Ohio.
It’s hard to overstate just how pervasive the epidemic feels here. Detective Taylor Cleveland, who investigates drug cases in Ashtabula, told me, “I’m dealing with ruined homes two and three times a day.” Cleveland, who coaches youth soccer and recently adopted a 17-year-old player whose mom overdosed, leads a task force that responds to every overdose in the county. Once, he arrived at an overdose scene only to realize that the victim slouched over in the motel room was his cousin, whose young daughter had called 911. “Every OD that happens, I get a text. I’ve gotten two texts while we’ve been talking.” We’d been talking for less than an hour.
Given the scale of the crisis, it’s not hard to understand why, when Donald Trump promised Ohioans on the campaign trail to “spend the money” to confront the opioid crisis and build a wall so drugs would stop flowing in, locals in this historically blue county took notice. In late October, Trump became the first presidential candidate since John F. Kennedy to visit Ashtabula County. He promised to bring back jobs, to open the long-shuttered steel plants, to build the wall. Twelve days later, Ashtabula residents voted for a Republican president for the first time since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
WHITE HOUSE PROMISED ON OPIOIDS BUT DIDN’T DELIVER
But since he took office, Trump’s plans to tackle the epidemic head-on have fizzled. Republicans’ recent effort to repeal and replace Obamacare would slash funding for Medicaid, which is the country’s largest payer for addiction services—and which covers nearly half of Ohio’s prescriptions for the opioid addiction medication buprenorphine. The bill would enable insurers in some states to get out of the Obamacare requirement to cover substance abuse treatment. A memo leaked in May revealed Trump’s plans to effectively eliminate the White House’s drug policy office, cutting its budget by 95 percent. (The administration has since backpedaled on the plans, following bipartisan criticism.) Trump’s 2018 budget proposes substantial cuts to the Administration for Children and Families, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
“I think some people felt as though nothing else is working,” said one Ashtabula resident when I asked why so many in a Medicaid-dependent area would vote for Trump. Now, she says, “I’m really, really scared. You don’t get it until you live in a small town and you see people die every day.”
Like so many other Midwest Rust Belt counties, Ashtabula, Ohio has seen better days. Locals proudly tell me that the Port of Ashtabula used to be one of the biggest in the world, where barges unloaded iron mined from Minnesota’s Mesabi Range onto trains headed for the steel mills of the Ohio River Valley. Today, once-bustling streets have given way to vacant storefronts and fast-food chains; the surrounding countryside is made up of farm fields, trailer parks, and junkyards. One in three kids now live below the federal poverty line, less than half of adults have a high school education. The financial downturn accelerated in the ’90s when manufacturing jobs started disappearing.
Then Opiate Big Pharma and their marketing campaigns introduced newer “less addictive” painkillers like OxyContin and others like Vicodin were liberally prescribed in communities wrestling with dwindling economic opportunity and rife with workplace injuries common to mines, lumberyards, and factories. As authorities started to tighten the rules on prescribing drugs like OxyContin, the use of heroin, which is chemically nearly identical to opioid painkillers, crept up. But the tipping point, for Ohio and the country, came over the past couple of years, when illicit fentanyl, an opioid up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, started making its way into the heroin supply. Since then, says Dr. Thomas Gilson, the medical examiner for nearby Cuyahoga County, the deaths have been coming “like a tidal wave.”
About five years ago, Ohio noticed a major uptick in the number of parents using heroin. More recently, elected officials have learned more about the parasitic way that opioids co-opt the brain and the complex pull of addictions attitudes have softened, with most realizing there is no good guy or bad guy, once addiction takes hold. The long-term problems are often multiplied many times over by lack of short-term treatment.
Gov. John Kasich, a notorious budget hawk, made national news when he pushed Medicaid expansion through Ohio’s conservative Legislature. “When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter,” he told one lawmaker, “he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he is going to ask you what you did for the poor.” He made news yet again last week, when he signed a 2018 budget that will, for the first time in years, increase the state’s funding for children’s services. Yet the $30 million boost in funding over two years, which will pay foster parents and provide counseling for the kids, won’t make up for the $55 million increase in child placement costs over the past three years. Other than county pilot programs, “No policy or state investment has focused specifically on the children flooding into county agency custody as a result of the opioid epidemic,” concluded a report by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio this spring.
Meanwhile, federal funding for children’s services decreased by 16 percent between 2004 and 2014. That’s due in part to an arcane law stipulating that the largest pot of federal money for children’s services applies only to kids from below a certain income threshold. In many states, that threshold is about half the poverty level—in Ohio, it’s roughly $14,000 per year for a family of four. But the opioid epidemic has afflicted families of all stripes. “A few years ago, I was constantly just in homes that were clearly in poverty,” says Mongenel. Now she’s struck by her new clients’ well-kept houses: “You pull up to it and it’s like, ‘Really?’”
The director of one Ohio county stated “that more caseworkers are quitting than ever before, unable to reconcile the overwhelming caseload with the paltry salary, which starts at $28,500..’”
CPS and affiliated social services agencies across the United States are now becoming much more familiar with the latest addiction research on ACEs and impacts on young children. They know that a child with four or more ACEs is twice as likely as other kids to develop cancer and ten times more likely to inject drugs themselves. When they encounter someone like Lisa, they are torn between mitigating one ACE, exposure to parental substance abuse, and catalyzing another: separating a child from her parents, which is what makes these conversations so heart-wrenching.
For county and state professionals, one of the most difficult things about managing opioid cases is how unpredictable they can be, never knowing how a client’s drug-addicted parent will do after detox. Some thrive and are quickly reunited with their families. Others can’t pull themselves out of the black hole of addiction.
Every 19 minutes, an opioid addicted baby is born in America, while many of us are well aware of the repercussions of addiction in adults, but very little is understood about the impact it has on infants. After months of being fed opioids through the mother, these babies suffer through excruciating pain.
Imagine, then, how it feels for a baby. Infants who have been exposed to opioid painkillers like morphine, codeine, oxycodone, methadone treatment or street drugs such as heroin while in utero are literally cut off from the drugs when they are born. Within their first 72 hours of life, about half of the babies who have been exposed begin having withdrawal symptoms.
The medical term for this is neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, and rates of babies born with it are rising along with the exponential increase of painkiller use and abuse.
A recent analysis by the Centers for Disease Control estimated that nearly six out of every 1,000 infants born in the U.S. are now diagnosed with NAS. However, experts say that rate is likely higher, as not all states regularly collect such data.
In Tennessee which is currently the only state in the country that equates substance abuse while pregnant with aggravated assault, the penalty is punishable by a 15-year prison sentence. Eighteen other states consider it to be child abuse, and three say its grounds for civil commitment. Four states require drug testing of mothers and 18 require that healthcare professionals report when drug abuse is suspected. There are also 19 states that have created funding for targeted drug treatment programs for pregnant women.
Opponents of the punishment philosophy claim that punishing addicted pregnant women will not stop them from abusing drugs â€“ instead it will stop them from seeking prenatal care. Many also claim that these policies would unfairly punish mothers for drug use compared to fathers. Organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), have encouraged a treatment over punishment approach for pregnant mothers with drug addictions.
For the most up to date information on all MDL dockets and related mass torts visit www.masstortnexus.com and review our mass tort briefcases and professional site MDL briefcases.
To obtain our free newsletters that contain real time mass tort updates, visit www.masstortnexus.com/news and sign up for free access.