Cherokees file suit over flood of opioids
Action in tribal court names large retailers, top makers of drugs
Lawyers for the Cherokee Nation opened a new line of attack against the pharmaceutical industry Thursday, filing a lawsuit in tribal court that accuses the nation’s six top drug distributors and pharmacies of flooding communities in Oklahoma with hundreds of millions of highly addictive pain pills.
The suit alleges that the companies violated sovereign Cherokee laws by failing to prevent the diversion of pain pills to the black market, profiting from the growing opioid epidemic and harming communities across the nation’s 14 counties in the state.
“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 says.
By filing the suit in tribal court, lawyers for the Cherokee Nation said they hope to gain quicker access to internal corporate records that could show what the companies knew about the diversion of pain pills on Indian lands in northeastern Oklahoma. It is the first time an Indian nation has filed suit against companies for the damage done by powerful pain pills such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
The suit names the three largest drug distributors in the United States: McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and Amerisource Bergen, which together control roughly 85 percent of prescription drug distribution in the country. Also named in the suit are some of the biggest names in the retail drug business: CVS, Walgreens and Wal Mart.