Opioid Litigation and Maternal-Child Health

Investing in the Future

Published in: JAMA Pediatrics (December 2019). doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.5009

Posted on RAND.org on December 19, 2019

by Stephen W. Patrick, Corey S. Davis, Bradley D. Stein

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In 2017, nearly 48,000 Americans died of opioid-related overdoses—a 6-fold increase since 1999. The unprecedented increase in opioid-related harms is not limited to adults. The last 2 decades also saw surges in infants receiving diagnoses of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome and foster care placements of young children because of parental substance misuse. Numerous states and municipalities have recently sued opioid manufacturers and distributors, seeking to hold them accountable for lives lost and communities harmed by the crisis, including costs associated with infants receiving of diagnosis of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome. If these suits are successful, settlements and jury verdicts may stretch to hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, ultimately resulting in one of the largest legal recoveries since the tobacco settlement in the 1990s. Unfortunately, most tobacco settlement funds have not funded tobacco cessation activities specifically or even public health initiatives generally. It is essential that this mistake is not repeated and that funds from opioid litigation are equitably and responsibly allocated in a way that benefits those most affected and reduces the risk of future harm.

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