CHARLESTON — An agreement was reached last week with West Virginia state officials and attorneys who had sought a judge’s ruling to have the state 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 agreement is the result of a lawsuit filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court in July in which a group of West Virginia attorneys wanted the Department of Health and Human Resources to release the names of about 4,000 West Virginia children diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) since 2016.
According to Charleston attorney Booth Goodwin, while it has not been finalized in writing, an agreement was reached with the DHHR to appoint two guardian ad litems, attorneys who will represent the children, to take the names of the children diagnosed with NAS and provide notice directly that there is still an opportunity for them to be represented as part of a potential class within the bankruptcy of Purdue Pharma.
The complaint 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.
Goodwin and other attorneys said many individuals and their families didn’t know they qualify to submit a claim in the case because the bankruptcy court is not allowed access to their information — most notably, that of the children diagnosed with NAS.
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, the DHHR says the data cannot be used to provide notice of the ongoing litigation affecting the children, citing confidentiality provisions in state laws.
The attorneys said the laws cited by DHHR don’t apply when health is a concern and they believe the Birth Score Program is meant to protect the health and well-being of a child, which a claim with the bankruptcy court would do.