The Cherokee Nation has filed a lawsuit against 6 companies, accusing them of “turning a blind eye” to opioids being illegally prescribed to Cherokee adults and children. The lawsuit is the first of its kind filed in the U.S. “As we fight this epidemic in our hospitals, our schools, and our Cherokee homes, we will also use our legal system to make sure the companies, who put profits over people while our society is crippled by this epidemic, are held responsible for their actions,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker.
According to DEA statistics, about 845 mg of opioids were distributed in the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation in 2015—or between 360 and 720 opioid pills per every prescription. In The Washington Post , one of the lawyers for the Cherokee Nation said the “flood of opioids into Oklahoma has torn apart families and cost the Cherokees hundreds of millions of dollars.” Over the past 3 years, 2,684 opioid-related deaths have been reported in the state, according to Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter.
The lawsuit names McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., and AmerisourceBergen (which together control roughly 85% of prescription drug distribution in the U.S.) as well as CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. The companies “enabled prescription opioids to fall into illicit distribution channels, failed to alert regulators of extreme volume, and incentivized sales of these drugs with financial bonuses,” said Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree. He said the drug distributors and pharmacies knew or should have known that the amount of drugs they were sending and dispensing were suspicious. He charged that the corporations’ profit seeking has unleashed “a plague.”
“Tribal nations have survived disease, removal from our homelands, termination, and other adversities and still we prospered,” said Chief Baker. “However, I fear the opioid epidemic is emerging as the next great challenge of our modern era.”
The full petition is available at www.cherokeecourts.org.