Navajo Na­tion sues mak­ers of opi­oids

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Ken All­tucker

The Navajo Na­tion on Tues­day filed a sweep­ing fed­eral law­suit against opi­oid mak­ers, dis­trib­u­tors and phar­ma­cies for their role in an epi­demic blamed for a surge in over­dose deaths and ad­dic­tion.

The tribe’s law­suit, filed at U.S. Dis­trict Court in New Mex­ico, said that that pre­scrip­tion and il­licit opi­oids led to 7,309 over­dose deaths from 2014 through 2016 in Ari­zona, New Mex­ico and Utah, the three states that in­clude parts of Navajo Na­tion.

The Navajo law­suit joins a grow­ing list of states and cities that have sued opi­oid man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors for an epi­demic that led to more than 42,000 over­dose deaths in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

The Navajo law­suit names as de­fen­dants man­u­fac­tur­ers Pur­due Pharma and Endo Health So­lu­tions and dis­trib­u­tors McKes­son Corp., Car­di­nal Health and AmerisourceBer­gen. Other de­fen-

dants in­clude phar­ma­cies: CVS Health, Wal­greens Boots Al­liance and Wal­mart.

“For gen­er­a­tions, Na­tive Amer­i­cans have dis­pro­por­tion­ately suf­fered dur­ing health crises, and the opi­oid crisis is no dif­fer­ent,” Navajo Na­tion Pres­i­dent Rus­sell Be­gaye said in a state­ment. “We aren’t go­ing to sit back and let our com­mu­nity be torn apart while our chil­dren are suf­fer­ing.”

The suit says that the opi­oid epi­demic’s harm has been “par­tic­u­larly dev­as­tat­ing” for Na­tive Amer­i­can chil­dren, cit­ing CDC data that 1 in 10 Amer­i­can In­dian chil­dren aged 12 and older have used opi­oids for non-med­i­cal pur­poses — dou­ble the rate of white chil­dren.

Preg­nant Amer­i­can In­dian women are up to 8.7 times more likely than preg­nant white women to be di­ag­nosed with opi­oid de­pen­dency or abuse, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

Al­though it does not quan­tify over­dose deaths and opi­oid de­pen­dence rates within Navajo Na­tion, the suit states the il­licit use of opi­oids “con­trib­utes to and ex­ac­er­bates” ex­ist­ing so­cial prob­lems such as child abuse and ne­glect, fam­ily dys­func­tion, poverty, un­em­ploy­ment, and so­cial de­spair.

The law­suit also states that the Navajo Na­tion must de­vote re­sources to ad­dic­tion-re­lated prob­lems, “leav­ing a di­min­ished pool of re­sources avail­able for ed­u­ca­tion, cul­tural preser­va­tion, and so­cial pro­grams.”

In 2015, Mis­sis­sippi be­came the first state to sue opi­oid man­u­fac­tur­ers for their role in the opi­oid epi­demic. That law­suit opened the flood­gates with hun­dreds of states, cities and coun­ties fil­ing law­suits tar­get­ing the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try’s role in the opi­oid epi­demic.

Ari­zona is not among a group of 41 states have joined to­gether to sub­poena records and in­ves­ti­gate pain-pill mak­ers mar­ket­ing of opi­oids. How­ever, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that will limit ini­tial pain pill fills and fund $10 mil­lion in ad­dic­tion treat­ment.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment has joined a fed­eral suit in Cleveland that in­volves hun­dreds of states and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

Phoenix in­tends to file its own case against opi­oid man­u­fac­tur­ers in Ari­zona. Phoenix ex­pects its case will be moved to Cleveland for pre­trial dis­cov­ery. When dis­cov­ery con­cludes in the Cleveland case, Phoenix in­tends to re­turn its case to Ari­zona, ac­cord­ing to a city rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

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