Eight Tennessee district attorneys general are suing opioid manufacturers on behalf of babies from 24 counties born dependent on opioids.
As the nation’s opioid epidemic grows, so does the number of helpless infants born to addicted mothers. These babies exposed to drugs in the womb suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which causes symptoms such as tremors or trembling, irritability, sleep problems, high-pitched crying, tight muscle tone, hyperactive reflexes, seizures, poor feeding and sucking, vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration, fever or unstable temperature, sweating, and dehydration. Long-term effects of NAS include developmental delays and attention problems.
The problem has gotten so bad in some Tennessee counties that some are reporting rates of NAS eight times the national average.
Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said that the number of opioid prescriptions to individuals living in the region is having a “tragic” effect. “When you see those babies scream, you see them claw, you seem them shake, it makes the problem real,” he said. “It’s not an abstract policy problem. It’s not a lawsuit. It’s a baby that never had a chance.”
The skyrocketing rate of NAS in babies born in east Tennessee has prompted Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City to open a dedicated ward to care for babies born dependent to opioids. Since 2009, more than 1,800 babies have been treated for NAS at the hospital.
Tennessee, along with Alabama and Kentucky, experiences some of the highest rates of NAS births. East Tennessee’s rates are among the most dire with 50.5 cases of NAS reported in every 1,000 births.
The lawsuit filed by the Tennessee attorneys general is one of several lawsuits opioid makers are facing from states, counties and cities across the country in an effort to crack down on the growing opioid epidemic. Drug makers have paid millions in recent years to settle similar lawsuits.
Source: NBC News