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The Prescription Drug Overdose Epidemic: A New Basis Of Liability Through One Of The Oldest Practices Known

Stephanie Greene, a 39-year-old former nurse and mother in South Carolina, suffers from chronic pain due to an accident in 1998 in which she fractured her skull and pelvis. She began taking various opioid medications for the pain. When she was caught trying to obtain drugs illegally in 2004, she lost her nursing license. Mrs. Greene has a seven-year-old son, and when "surprised" by a "late" pregnancy, she reported that both she and her husband welcomed the new baby with joy.

Baby Alexis Greene was born healthy, despite the fact that Mrs. Greene hid her continued use of painkillers from her obstetrician and hid her pregnancy from the doctor who prescribed the painkillers. But when Alexis Greene was six weeks old, she stopped breathing. Mrs. Greene called 911, tried to perform CPR, but was dazed and confused; pill bottles and pain patches were lying about everywhere according to the paramedics who responded. Alexis died, and the autopsy report concluded that there was enough morphine in her system to be lethal for an adult.

It is how Alexis ingested the morphine that makes this case the first of its kind. Mrs. Greene was breast-feeding Alexis, and she was charged with homicide by child abuse. Although prosecutors admitted that no mother had ever been tried for killing her child by a substance transmitted through breast milk, in this case they believed the charge was warranted given that Mrs. Greene had training as a nurse and she should have known that taking such potent pain killers while breast feeding would put her newborn at risk. If Mrs. Greene needed to remain on her prescription pain medicine, she could have done so responsibly, and chosen to bottle feed Alexis.

Baby Alexis is one of the tiniest victims of the prescription drug epidemic in this country. The death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman from heroin cast a spotlight on the growing number of overdoses due to the street opioid; in reality, deaths from prescription opioids such as morphine are occurring at five times the rate of deaths from heroin. Mrs. Greene's conviction is important in the fight against the prescription drug epidemic because it holds an addict responsible for all of the consequences of their use of drugs---including the personal injury and death of others, rather than strictly the loss of their own life through overdose.

The Thomas Law Firm encourages women to disclose to their doctors all medications they take if they are or think they may be pregnant, and if they intend to breast-feed their child. If you are currently struggling with legal issues surrounding addiction, contact the Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation today.

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