Opioid Drugmakers, Distributors Sued Over Addicted Babies

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Julie A. Steinberg Washington Reporter Steven Patrick Washington

By Julie A. Steinberg

The adoptive family of a toddler born addicted to opioids filed a proposed class suit against drugmakers and distributors seeking money to cover the costs of the children’s care.

Prenatal exposure to opioids causes severe withdrawal symptoms and lasting developmental impacts, Darren and Elena Flanagan allege in a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.

The suit is part of a new group of similar would-be class actions stemming from the opioid crisis. The epidemic affects thousands of infants in the United States, the complaint says.

Manufacturer defendants include Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma LP and Johnson & Johnson unit Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., maker of Duragesic fentanyl skin patches.

Distributor defendants include Cardinal Health Inc., AmerisourceBergen Corp., and McKesson Corp.

They rejected the allegations.

The plaintiffs’ goal is a protected, court-administered fund that will provide money to meet the children’s needs throughout their lives, Celeste Brustowicz, one of their attorneys, told Bloomberg Law.

Brustowicz, of the Cooper Law Firm, LLC in New Orleans, said her firm is involved in eight suits so far, and more are expected.

The Flanagans’ suit is expected to be transferred to multidistrict opioid proceedings at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

Baby K.L.F., now 2, was diagnosed at birth with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, a condition suffered by babies born to opioid-addicted mothers, the complaint alleges.

She spent weeks in a neonatal intensive care unit to undergo detoxification, the suit says. Her mother was prescribed opioids before she became pregnant, the complaint says.

The Flanagans demand medical monitoring to track developmental issues that will arise as the children grow older, and funding for education and counseling services and treatment.

They also seek costs associated with providing care for children whose parents suffer from opioid-related disability or incapacitation, including foster care services. They seek to represent Tennessee children diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

In recent years, there has been a dramatic rise in the proportion of infants who have been exposed to opioids, the complaint alleges.

Manufacturers minimized the risks of addiction, the plaintiffs say. Distributors failed to monitor, report, and stop suspicious orders, resulting in the diversion of addictive drugs to the illicit market, the plaintiffs allege.

The defendants could have, and should have, prevented the NAS epidemic and its consequences, the Flanagans say.

Other Suits Pending

Similar proposed class suits on were initially filed in federal courts in West Virginia, Missouri, California, and Illinois. Three have been transferred into federal multidistrict proceedings and the fourth is expected to be transferred, joining suits by hundreds of cities and counties.

Three proposed class suits are also pending, in state courts in Tennessee and Lousiana, Brustowicz said.

The defendants and a trade group pushed back against the litigation.

“We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense,” Purdue Pharma said.

Janssen said that labels for its prescription opioid pain medicines include information about risks and benefits.

“The allegations made against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated,” it said.

Healthcare Distribution Alliance, the national trade association representing wholesale distributors, said the opioid epidemic is a complex public health challenge.

“Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation,” John Parker, Senior Vice President, HDA, said in a statement sent to Bloomberg Law.Cooper Law Firm, LLC, Thompson Barney Law Firm, and others represent the plaintiffs.

The case is Flanagan v. Purdue Pharma, L.P. , W.D. Tenn., No. 18-2194, complaint 3/21/18 .

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie A. Steinberg in Washington at jsteinberg@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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