NAS Client Stories

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NAS Client Stories

Increased medical costs, social service costs, child welfare costs, law enforcement costs, court costs, incarceration costs, loss of worker productivity, wrongful deaths, and lost personal opportunities are some of the consequences of a national addiction problem caused by opioid manufacturers and distributors. Addicted parents, removal of children from parents, and dependent infants pose a direct threat to our society.

There is a significant lack of resources for education, treatment, prevention and public safety in our communities to address this growing epidemic threatening our future and our families. Let us discuss how we can fight back together. We’re at the forefront of fighting the national opioid litigation battle, and we’re in a good position to get justice now. Stand with us.

Click the buttons below to read stories from a few of our NAS clients:

Felecia Coleman | NAS Client

Felecia Coleman, mother of boy with NAS

Felecia Coleman knows that her son – who just turned 3 – isn’t much like other kids his age. He’s smaller than the other toddlers, and he’s very timid around them as well. The boy continues to find it difficult to communicate.

“He struggles with his speech,” Coleman said, adding that “I know what he’s saying.”

None of Coleman’s doctors had warned the 35-year-old upstate New York woman that her child
might face any problems because of the opioid painkillers that she’d become dependent upon after three back surgeries for a herniated disc the year before. In fact, when Coleman was seriously burned late into her pregnancy and hospitalized for two weeks, physicians treating her actually upped her dosage of Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin.

Today, Coleman is one of hundreds of thousands of mothers across America wondering why her doctors continued to prescribe opioid medication to a pregnant woman – and why they failed to warn about the high risk of neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, as well as birth defects and long-term developmental problems.

“I’m very bitter inside – I can’t help it,” Coleman says now. Although she’s now sober from opioids with the help of medically assisted therapy, she admits feeling a sense of shame until she started to meet many other moms who are in the same boat.

Coleman recently joined one of 34 class action suits filed across the United States aiming to require Big Pharma companies, including Purdue, to pay for children’s health care and the establishment of a medical monitoring fund to help better determine their long-term needs.

In her case, her son’s problems were evident from the day he was born in November 2016 and
experienced breathing problems – Coleman recalls that “he was purple” — that sent him immediately to the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. There, doctors discovered a bowel blockage that required immediate surgery and the removal of several centimeters of intestine.

The boy spent his first two months in the hospital, and there were new problems as soon he was allowed to go home. “His bowels were uncontrollable,” Coleman remembered, and he was soon switched to cloth diapers because of frequent rashes. This was on top of other symptoms consistent with NAS: birth: frequent diarrhea and vomiting; high-pitched crying; irritability; difficulty sleeping, swallowing and eating; heavy sweating, tremors and signs of pain.

Coleman said she decided to wait until her son’s third birthday – which just occurred – before she brings him in for a round of testing to better understand if he’s experiencing developmental difficulties or needs early intervention. She said she agrees with the goal of the class-action suits to make that kind of testing routine.

“I feel like there should be studies or more research,” she said, adding, of her son: “Yes, he’s three, but how will this affect him later on? We need more research from more kids, so that people will knowmore in the future.”

Jennifer Scully | NAS Client

Jennifer Scully, mother of girl with NAS

Not long ago, Jennifer Scully started getting phone calls from teachers about something unusual
going on with her 5-year-old daughter. The girl would occasionally stare blankly off into space for two or more minutes, unresponsive to adults or anyone else.

What Scully’s daughter was experiencing was a rare type of seizure – just one of the many unusual symptoms that the child has coped with since she was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS,
after her mother – a 42-year-old upstate New York woman – was prescribed opioid medication for pain from back surgery and breast cancer.

Scully said that in addition to the unusual seizures, her daughter is undersized, with a thin
vocabulary of only about 50 words, and was in diapers until she turned 4. She says the girl – who has been diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) – is generally about two years behind other kids.

“Because I’m a nurse” – Scully’s profession before all of this happened – “I pay a lot more attention to things,” she said. That means she won’t leave her daughter with a babysitter who might not watch the child closely enough or understand the things that might abruptly upset her.

When Scully unexpectedly became pregnant in 2014, her prescription-drug regimen wasn’t the
primary focus of her doctors. She’d broken her back the year before, and had been prescribed Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin and other medications to deal with the severe pain. Then, Scully’s physicians learned she had breast cancer – requiring chemotherapy – and that she was having a baby. They thought it best she remain on painkillers.

“They said, ‘We’re not taking you off and besides, it won’t affect the baby,” recalled Scully, saying her back, cancer and pregnancy doctors all agreed. When her daughter was born in September 2014, the child was diagnosed with NAS and spent five days in the hospital dealing with tremors, high-pitched crying and other symptoms.

Now, her physicians told Scully that “it isn’t like it used to be” for a child born with drug dependency, that her five days in neonatal intensive care would be the end of a brief ordeal. “They said that at the most I’ll have a cranky baby,” she recalled – a gross underestimation of a child’s struggles that were just beginning.

Only now does Scully – who is still facing treatment for the addiction that she developed to opioid painkillers – fully understand what it means to be the mother to one of an estimated 750,000 children in the United States over the past two decades facing often serious issues because of exposure to opioids in the womb.

Many of their moms are like Scully: Women who were legally prescribed drugs like OxyContin for legitimate pain issues, with little or no warning of what could happen during a pregnancy. The New Yorker is currently seeking justice in a class action lawsuit seeking long-term health care and a medical monitoring fund for these kids.

“They” – the big pharmaceutical firms – “need to be held responsible for what they’ve done,” Scully said, adding: “I expected a healthy child. None of this is my fault.”

Jeremay Martinez | NAS Client

Jeremay Martinez, foster mom of boy with NAS

Three years ago, Jeremay Martinez – now a 30-year-old single parent in her native Espanola, New Mexico – underwent the training required to someday become a foster mom. At the time, she didn’t know if she could handle the hard work of an additional child, or the emotions of someday handing that kid back to a birth parent.

Then in the summer of 2018, she learned through a connection with her dad about a 25-year-old local woman dealing with an addiction to opioids who desperately needed foster care for her fourth child. Martinez didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes” but quickly learned that no class could prepare her for the ups and downs of raising a boy with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

“The first two and a half months are really hard,” Martinez recalled of taking the boy home after two stressful weeks in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU. “Most people would have freaked out, because he shook, he cried a lot, and he needed comforting…It took a lot of comfort and love but now he’s doing OK.”

But “doing OK” for a baby born with an opioid dependency still means some difficulty with motor skills and other deficiencies. Martinez says the child still receives a form of occupational therapy twice a week and may continue doing so for some time.

In hindsight, Martinez realized she had a lot to learn about raising an NAS baby, even in a county with a serious opioid problem. She realized her initial dream of bringing the boy’s mom home to live with her and helping her get off opioids to be able to raise her own son was overly optimistic and perhaps naïve. Within two weeks, the birth mother – who’d been legally prescribed Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin as a teen but then suffered through eight years of addiction – was gone. Martinez, now legal guardian of the 15-month-old boy, hopes to permanently adopt him.

Meanwhile, she discovered the Espanola community lacked resources for an ever-rising number of kids born with NAS or other problems that resulted from opioid exposure in the womb. Instead, Martinez has improvised – finding an expert in baby massage whose work helped the boy cope with early stomach problems and other issues.

“He had light sensitivity and sound sensitivity but has overcome that,” Martinez said. The child was also helped with physical therapy as well as the ongoing occupational therapy. Now, Martinez and a friend who is also a doula – a non-medical companion for major events such as birthing – are looking to see if they can establish a safe haven under New Mexico law where addicted mothers can safely drop off babies they cannot care for.

But now that Martinez knows that babies born with an opioid dependency require so many
resources, she hopes that legal action against Big Pharma can help families meet those needs. “We need to work together to come up with things to help these kids,” she said. “It’s better that we address their problems than just hide.”

Kathy Strain | NAS Client

Kathy Strain, leading opioid abuse activist

There probably aren’t many women in America with a better sense of how many moms are
struggling to raise children who were exposed to opioids in the womb – and how little is known about the medical and developmental effects their kids face – than Kathy Strain.

A leading activist in the fight against opioid abuse, the Pennsylvania woman regularly talks with
worried moms or family members as a statewide moderator for a popular internet message board called The Addict’s Mom. What she’s learned is that once hospitals send babies home after a few weeks in intensive care to wean them off drug dependency, mothers often remain unaware their children may face long-term difficulties.

“It really is a big group of kids,” said Strain, referring as many as 250,000 children born every year in America with problems related to opioid exposure, “with all of the issues, and nobody knows.” She talks regular to family members who worry about physical symptoms like clenched jaws or grinding teeth, or who face developmental or psychological difficulties such as attention-deficit problems, autism-like symptoms or memory issues.

She sees the current legal actions against America’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, which
aggressively marketed these addictive painkillers, as a way to get what these children are lacking: Long-term medical monitoring that will both help doctors learn more about the lingering effects of opioid exposure and aid kids in getting better treatment.

“We owe it to these kids — and future generations – to develop a tracking system and to study and see why developmental delays and defects may be happening with these children,” said Strain. Strain has been asking the hard questions about the opioid crisis in America ever since early in the 2010s, when two of her children became dependent upon the drugs, including her son who eventually died from an overdose while seeking treatment. At first, she said she struggled to focus at work – losing her job and going on unemployment for a time. But eventually she learned to channel some of the pain she experienced into helping others.

Strain, who lives in Berks County about an hour west of Philadelphia, overcame her fears of public speaking when the county asked her to give a talk about the opioid crisis. “I didn’t want any family to experience the shame and the stigma that I’d felt,” she said.

After signing up as a volunteer coach with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, she became a
moderator with The Addict’s Mom – which maintains highly active websites in all 50 states – and a local leader with Not One More, a family support group. She also now works for the state of Pennsylvania in a program aimed at ending drug abuse in the workplace, and recently appeared in an ad for the Stop Opioid Silence campaign.

Today, Strain says there is still so much work to be done to educate both would-be mothers and their doctors about the risks.

“Women in that age group where they could conceive need to be made aware of the danger,” she said. “That wasn’t happening, and I don’t know that that’s happening now.”

Shelly Whittaker | NAS Client

Shelly Whittaker, mom of boy with NAS

Shelly Whittaker kept going back to the doctors. They kept telling her there was nothing wrong with her son. But she knew better.

In 2007, when the boy was born, the Fort Collins, Colorado, woman was already raising a daughter who would grow up to be a straight-A student. But she became pregnant with her first son, her doctors decided to treat her two serious medical conditions – lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis – with Purdue Pharma’s widely used painkiller, OxyContin. When her first son was born in June 2007, he yawned constantly, and his body shook.

“We took him to the doctor, and I said, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong,’” Whittaker recalled. “They said, ‘He’s fine – we don’t know what it is.’”

She continued to experience problems with the child, including vomiting and other symptoms of withdrawal after she stopped breast-feeding a year later. But her doctors never suggested she stop taking OxyContin or other prescription painkillers, even when she became pregnant with her second son who was born in March 2010.

What happened next followed a familiar pattern. Whittaker’s second son — who spent a week in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, and received morphine to withdraw from opioid dependency – exhibited many of the symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS: High-pitched crying, tremors and convulsions, diarrhea and vomiting, and difficulty swallowing. When Whittaker became pregnant with her third son in 2013, her doctors switched her to a different medication, Subutex – which didn’t prevent the boy from developing all the same signs of NAS.

A dozen years later, as Whittaker works tirelessly to raise three boys with ongoing behavioral and developmental difficulties, the 38-year-old Colorado woman minces no words when it comes to either the drugmakers who so aggressively marketed their products or the doctors who seemed clueless about the risks.

“I am frustrated with the doctors who kept shoving these pills down my throat and telling me that everything would be fine,” Whittaker says today. But she’s also come to learn that the pharmaceutical giants who made and marketed those pills knew more about the addictive risks than they let on to the public. “It makes me sick to my stomach,” she adds.

Whittaker is hardly alone. Lawyers advocating for children like hers believe that as many as 750,000 children have been born in the United States with NAS or with birth defects, lingering developmental difficulties or other problems caused by in-utero exposure to opioids. Whittaker recently became a plaintiff in one of the more than 34 class action lawsuits filed across the nation on behalf of NAS babies, with the goal of ensuring that medical care, damages and the creation of a medical monitoring fund are paid by the firms that created the crisis.

Like other mothers of children with NAS, Whittaker said there’s a whole array of unmet needs for these kids. “I would love for them to have some help with their schooling,” she said. “There’s no school in my community that helps children who’ve been falling behind.

Shelly Grann | NAS Client

Shelly Grann, mother of NAS children, tells her story in this video: