CHARLESTON — A group of West Virginia attorneys have filed in a complaint in Charleston asking a judge to force the state to release the names of children born exposed to drugs, so their families can be sent notice of pending litigation and seek compensation for their suffering.
The complaint, filed in Kanwaha County Circuit Court, involves the bankruptcy case of Purdue Pharma, which began last year as a result of hundreds of lawsuits — including those from Cabell County and the City of Huntington — being filed in federal court seeking millions of dollars in damages. The lawsuits allege Purdue had a large role in the opioid epidemic that has affected communities across the United States.
According to Booth Goodwin, of Goodwin & Goodwin LLP, in Charleston, the deadline for individuals and entities to file a claim against Purdue Pharma is July 30, but the attorneys worry many individuals and their families don’t know they qualify because the bankruptcy court is not allowed access to their information — most notability, that of the children diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.
“Children born with NAS are the most innocent victims of the drug crisis,” Goodwin said. “These children and their families deserve to know about legal proceedings that could provide them resources to help them throughout their lives.”
West Virginia has one of the highest rates of infants born with NAS, a disease caused when a child’s mother uses an opioid while pregnant. Often times when the infant is born and deprived of opioids, they develop painful withdrawal symptoms as well as other issues that can last a lifetime.
The complaint states while the West Virginia Birth Score Program, which has a registry to identify children born with NAS, has been in place since October 2016, DHHR says the data cannot be used to provide notice of the ongoing litigation affecting the children, citing confidentiality provisions in state laws.
Attorneys believe the registry identifies about 4,000 West Virginia children diagnosed with NAS. A petition has been filed in the bankruptcy court to permit the filing of a class action claim on behalf of those children, but attorneys have been able to reach only a small fraction of that.
The attorneys said the laws cited by DHHR don’t apply with health is a concern and they believe the Birth Score Program is meant to protect the health and well-being of a child, with which a claim with the bankruptcy court would do.
In addition to Goodwin’s firm, the complaint was filed by attorneys with Calwell Luce diTrapano, Law Offices of P. Rodney Jackson and Forbes Law Offices.