It’s official. The U.S. has declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency. Prescription and illegal opioids are commonly abused because they’re chemically addictive, and opioid painkillers are being prescribed more than ever. There’s evidence suggesting that long-term prescription opioid use may not have been properly studied and may negatively affect newborn children who are delivered by addicted mothers. You may be able to take legal action by filing a Kentucky opioid lawsuit.
There are currently a large, growing number of lawsuits being filed around the country against prescription opioid manufacturers who may have withheld information from the public regarding the heavily-addictive nature of opioid painkillers and the effects they have on long-term users and their newborns. These lawsuits may help bring an end to the opioid epidemic by forcing drug manufacturers and physicians to better warn patients and help those addicted seek alternative pain relief options.
If you’re struggling with opioid addiction and feel your addiction has affected your life and the life of a newborn child, legal help may be available. With the aid of the opioid overdose lawyers at Thomas Law Offices, you may be able to return to the task of living.
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The Facts About Opioid Drug Overdoses
Opioids are drugs made from opium that are known to reduce the effects of pain. The opioid classification includes both illegal drugs like heroin as well as legal painkillers like oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), morphine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), and fentanyl. Some legal, controlled opioids, like fentanyl, are also manufactured and traded illegally.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were over 52,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. during 2015. Over 33,000—63%—of those deaths involved opioid use. That translates to an average of 91 opioid deaths every single day in the United States. Meanwhile, the number of prescribed opioids dispensed by doctors has risen to more than 282 million nationwide since 2012.
Between 2006 and 2014, the most popular prescribed opioid painkiller was Vicodin (hydrocodone). In 2014 alone, over 7.8 billion Vicodin pills were prescribed nationwide. According to the International Narcotics Control Board, 99.7% of the world’s hydrocodone supply is being consumed by the American population.
A Closer Look at Opioid Abuse
Opioid painkillers have been commonly prescribed for years due to their high success rates. It’s estimated that as many as two million Americans in recent years have become dependent on prescription pain pills or illegal painkillers. These two million Americans depend on the drugs to relieve chronic pain, recover from painful surgeries and conditions, and perform everyday functions.
This becomes an issue when you combine the high success rate of opioids with the fact that opioid painkillers are extremely addictive in nature. Consider these two facts:
- Individuals who are prescribed opioids often experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the medication. This is what makes opioids so addictive.
- Opioid dependence is often paired with tolerance. This means that opioid users often need to take increasingly larger doses to experience the same level of pain relief.
When the drugs are prescribed, patients are often cut off “cold turkey” from refills completely. This, when paired with withdrawal symptoms, leads some patients to seek the drugs from other doctors or from illegal sources. This makes it easier to use the drugs unsafely and potentially overdose.
Users may also seek alternative sources of opioids when they no longer experience the pain relief they need to function. When opioid-dependent individuals are no longer under medical supervision when taking the drugs, it becomes far easier to abuse them to dangerous levels and potentially overdose. When used excessively, opioids may cause a user to stop breathing or lose consciousness. This is how many overdose deaths occur.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, roughly 11.5 million Americans misused prescription pain medication in 2016. If users who are dependent on the drugs can no longer get prescription opioids, they may be tempted to switch to heroin since it’s often easier to obtain on the streets and surprisingly cheaper. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 3 in 4 new heroin users start out using prescription opioids.
The Effects of Opioid Abuse in Pregnant Women
In a nationwide inpatient sample analysis between the years 1998 and 2011, it was discovered that opioid dependence among pregnant women has more than doubled during that period. Researchers found that opioid-dependent pregnant women are almost 5 times as likely to die during hospitalization and have longer hospitalization stays than expecting women who do not take opioids.
It was also discovered that babies born to opiate-dependent women are twice as likely to suffer from poor growth rates or be delivered stillborn. During the abovementioned study, 60-70% of newborns born from women who used heroin required at least 30 days of intensive withdrawal treatment.
Recent research is suggesting that even prescription opioids may cause permanent damage to a fetus as it’s developing. One of the largest studies published on opioid use including data from almost 230,000 pregnancies revealed that birth defects may occur more often when the mothers are dependent on prescription opioid painkillers.
The study found that the following birth defects may have a higher chance of occurring:
- Congenital heart defects (CHDs)
- Neural tube defects (NTDs) – Neural tube defects are birth defects of the brain, spinal cord, or spine. The three most common include:
- Spina bifida – A condition where the fetal spinal column doesn’t close completely. The newborn is usually born with permanent nerve damage and some level of paralysis of the legs.
- Chiari malformation – A condition that causes the brain tissue to develop in the spinal canal.
- Anencephaly – A condition where the full brain and skull do not develop. These babies are usually born stillborn or die shortly after birth.
- Clubfoot – A deformity where the infant’s feet are turned inward, often so severely that they cannot walk without requiring numerous extensive surgeries. This occurs when the tendons that connect the leg muscles to the foot bones do not fully develop.
Since this study is so recent, the exact rates of likely birth defect occurrence are unknown at this time. The low natural risk chances of birth defect occurrence make data like this difficult to assess, but the study did state that elevated standardized relative risks (SRR) resulted regarding the abovementioned defects.
It was also stated that data concerning the effects of opioid use in pregnant women has not been examined in great detail until this study due to the simple fact that pregnant women are usually omitted from most opioid use studies. This fact is startling—and frankly, should be reason for concern.
Birth defects, while relatively rare, can cause a child to suffer or even die while they are young. Many affect the child for their entire lives. Some birth defects are caused by preventable birth injuries that occur during a woman’s pregnancy term or during delivery. Medication, malnutrition, or environmental effects the mother is exposed to during pregnancy can also cause defects.
In many cases, birth defects can be prevented. In the case of defects potentially caused by opioid use, it’s obvious that they can absolutely be prevented. If pregnant mothers knew that their babies might be born with birth defects, they may seek alternative pain control options. If physicians were more aware of the risks, they may help expecting mothers not be addicted to opioid painkillers.
At the end of the day, it comes down to knowledge. If opioid manufacturers had taken the time to perform studies on pregnant women and knew how long-term opioid use may affect a newborn child, expecting mothers would have the information they need to make informed decisions regarding the prescriptions they take.
How Filing an Opioid Lawsuit in Kentucky Could Protect Future Generations
If you or someone you love has suffered due to an opioid addiction—especially if your child has suffered due to a birth defect that may have been caused by opioid addiction—or if you’ve lost a loved one due to an opioid overdose, you may be able to obtain compensation that can go towards recovery costs and more. Together, we can fight against drug manufacturers who have pushed their products on us for years and never studied what effects long-term opioid use may have on newborns.
Filing a Kentucky opioid lawsuit may force drug manufacturers to properly study the long-term effects of opioid use as well as inform patients and physicians alike regarding the risks. More doctors may become informed about alternative pain control methods which may result in fewer opioid addicts overall. Filing multiple lawsuits also generates media attention which may help inform expecting mothers about the potential risks of opioid use.
At Thomas Law Offices, our opioid birth defect lawyers are prepared to take on your case—no matter how complex it may seem—and fight for what’s right. Our injury attorneys have succeeded going up against major drug manufacturers and know what it takes to win against corporate powerhouses like the pharmaceutical industry. Contact our Louisville office today for a free consultation.