The Cherokee Nation is seeking restitution for a drug abuse epidemic that has disproportionately affected members of its tribe.
The nation filed a lawsuit against major pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy retailers in tribal court on Thursday, alleging that these companies have unjustly profited off of selling medically unnecessary amounts of prescription opioids.
The lawsuit accuses pharmaceutical companies McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health, as well as retail pharmacies Walgreens, CVS and Walmart of negligence. It details the effects of opioid abuse on members of the Cherokee Nation, ranging from infants to parents.
“American Indians in general are more likely than other racial/ethnic groups in the United States to die from drug-induced deaths. Among American Indian tribes, the Cherokee Nation has been particularly hard hit by the effects of Defendants’ opioid diversion,” the lawsuit said, referring to the illicit transfer of opioids between different people.
The lawsuit also describes babies who are born addicted because of drug use during pregnancy, high rates of heroin and opioid abuse among teenagers and children who are taken away from opioid-addicted parents.
It also alleges the pharmacy retailers and pharmaceutical companies should have known their actions were facilitating opioid use among people without prescriptions, among other accusations of blame. It also seeks damages for the effects that opioid distribution has had on its communities.
Nikki Baker Limore, executive director of Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare, has become deeply familiar with opioid abuse across the nation’s 14 counties, all of which are located in Oklahoma.
She said the epidemic has worsened dramatically in her 15-year career working in welfare.
“If we don’t do something about it, our tribe cannot go on,” she said.
In a written statement, a representative from Cardinal Health said the company acts as a distributor of medications, and neither prescribes nor dispenses medicine.
“Cardinal Health is confident 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,” the statement said. None of the other defendants named in the lawsuit responded to requests for comment.
Limore said the timing of the lawsuit couldn’t be better.
“Enough’s enough. The children are being born with delays and developmental issues, and we’ve got to hold people accountable so that this can’t keep happening to children,” Limore said.
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