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December 16, 2019

Opioid Litigation and Maternal-Child Health—Investing in the Future

Author Affiliations
  • 1Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy, Nashville, Tennessee
  • 2Department of Pediatrics, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
  • 3Network for Public Health Law, Los Angeles, California
  • 4Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina
  • 5RAND Corporation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 6University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
JAMA Pediatr. 2020;174(2):119-120. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.5009

In 2017, nearly 48 000 Americans died of opioid-related overdoses—a 6-fold increase since 1999.1 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 syndrome2 and foster care placements of young children because of parental substance misuse.3 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.4 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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