Cherokee Nation Sues Opioid Distributors Over Drug Epidemic Among Tribal Nation

The Cherokee Nation has filed a lawsuit, in tribal court, which accuses the top pharmacies and drug distributors in America of flooding 14 counties in the northeastern part of Oklahoma with highly addictive pain killer medications.

The lawyers claim that the companies accused—which include: AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, CVS Health, McKeeson, Walgreens, and Walmart—have “conspicuously oversupplied” the market in this region with prescription opioid medications and have used unsafe distribution and dispensing practices, also failing to report suspicious orders.

Collectively, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal Health control approximately 85 percent of the prescription drugs in the Cherokee nation. The suit alleges that these companies have been negligent, breaking Cherokee laws by failing to prevent the flow of these drugs to the black market.

The total economic impact of this suit, according to tribal estimates released Friday, was in excess of $2 billion (in 2016), up from $1.55 billion, in 2014. The tribe’s holding company, Cherokee Nation Businesses, held about $1 billion in revenue for 2016 supporting—whether directly or indirectly–$785 million in wages for at least 10,000 workers.
In the suit, the tribe argues: “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.”

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

He goes on to say, “We’re looking at diversification and creating jobs that will sustain well into the future whether gaming goes away or not. It has always been in the back of our mind that someday gaming won’t be there or it will be in a different form.”

Cherokee principal chief, Bill John Baker, also adds that tribal nations have long survived disease, among other things, and still prospered. “However,” he argues, “I fear the opioid epidemic is emerging as the next great challenge of our modern era.”

Finally, Cherokee nation executive director of child welfare, Nikki Baker-Limore, comments, “We have a generation of children who are living in chaos. The children are our tribe’s future, and without them, we can’t go on. This just isn’t fair.”

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