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  • The suit alleges that the companies violated sovereign Cherokee laws.

    The suit alleges that the companies violated sovereign Cherokee laws. | Photo: Reuters

Published 20 April 2017

The lawsuit suggests drug companies profited from an opioid crisis it helped manufacture. 

In the first lawsuit of its kind, lawyers for the Cherokee nation are filing a lawsuit in a tribal court against the nation’s top six drug distributors and pharmacies for flooding communities in Oklahoma with hundreds of millions of highly addictive opioid pain pills.

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The suit alleges that the companies violated sovereign Cherokee laws by failing to prevent the pain pills from entering the black market, which has been massively profiting from the burgeoning opioid epidemic. The crisis has claimed nearly 180,000 lives since 2000.

“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 claims.

The suit names the three largest drug distributors in the United States, McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, who together control around 85 percent of prescription drug distribution in the country, as well as the biggest retail drug business including CVS, Walgreens and Walmart.

A similar suit was filed last month by seven counties in West Virginia, a region with the highest prescription drug overdose rate in the nation. That suit was also against many of the same corporations and accused the companies of creating a public hazard by shipping massive amounts of drugs into the state.

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

Bill John Baker, principal chief of the Cherokees, added that “tribal nations have survived disease, removal from our homelands, termination and other adversities, and still we prospered. However, I fear the opioid epidemic is emerging as the next great challenge of our modern era.”

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