Navajo Nation sues makers of opioids
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.