Cherokee Nation sues drug firms over opioid epidemic: report

Cherokee Nation sues drug firms over opioid epidemic: report
© Getty Images

Lawyers for the Cherokee Nation filed a lawsuit Thursday against six major drug distributors and pharmacies, accusing them of targeting and flooding their communities with hundreds of millions of highly addictive pain drugs, The Washington Post reports

It's the first lawsuit filed by an American Indian nation against drug companies claiming they have hurt their communities, the newspaper reports.

The tribe argues the companies profited from their failure to prevent pain pills known as opioids from spilling into the black market, hurting multiple communities while also violating sovereign Cherokee laws.

The suit claims the companies distributed powerful and addictive drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone.

ADVERTISEMENT
“Defendants turned a blind eye to the problem of opioid diversion and profited from the sale of prescription opioids to the citizens of the Cherokee Nation in quantities that far exceeded the number of prescriptions that could reasonably have been used for legitimate medical purposes,” the suit reads.

The suit lists AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson Corp., which are reportedly three of the nation’s largest drug distributors, controlling almost 85 percent of the country’s prescription pill distribution. 

The suit also names major corporations who sell drugs including CVS, Walgreens and Wal-Mart.  

The Cherokee Nation hopes to obtain access to internal company records that might show whether the companies were aware of the wide distribution on Indian domains in northeastern Oklahoma, according to the suit filed in tribal court.

The companies did not immediately respond to the Post’s requests for comment.

Cardinal Health said in a statement that it is working to promote education and prevent opioid diversion and abuse.

"Cardinal Health is committed to helping solve the opioid crisis. Our role is to help ensure consumers have access to the medications they need, while also working to prevent prescription drug diversion to the best of our ability based on our position in the complex drug supply chain," the company said. 

"Cardinal Health is confident that the facts and the law are on our side, and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves against the plaintiff’s mischaracterization of those facts and misunderstanding of the law."

Seven counties, also hit heavily by prescription drug abuse, in West Virginia filed lawsuits against many of the same distributors and companies.

The opioid epidemic has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in less than two decades. 

“Today, we are facing another challenge, a plague that has been set upon the Cherokee people by these corporations,” Todd Hembree, attorney general for the Cherokees, told the Post. “Their main goal is profit, and this scourge has cost lives and the Cherokee Nation millions.”

Ellen Barry, Senior Vice President for communications at Cardinal Health, said in a statement Thursday that the company is "committed to helping solve the opioid crisis."

"Our role is to help ensure consumers have access to the medications they need, while also working to prevent prescription drug diversion to the best of our ability based on our position in the complex drug supply chain," Barry says in part. "Cardinal Health is confident that the facts and the law are on our side, and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves against the plaintiff’s mischaracterization of those facts and misunderstanding of the law."

Updated: Thursday, 10:19 p.m.