Cherokee Nation To Sue Major Drug Companies For Failure To Monitor Opioid Distribution
The lawsuit was filed in tribal court today and claims the companies were partially responsible for the community’s addiction crisis. CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen are among the massive companies named in the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages but will likely end up in the hundreds of millions.
The Controlled Substances Act holds drug distributors and pharmacies legally responsible for reporting suspicious orders or prescriptions to federal officials.
“Suspicious” orders may include patients who are doctor shopping (obtaining and filling multiple prescriptions from different doctors) or orders that appear much too large for the local community.
According to the lawsuit, the defendants “have profited greatly by allowing the Cherokee Nation to become flooded with prescription opioids. They have habitually turned a blind eye to known or knowable problems in their own supply chains.”
The Cherokee Nation isn’t the first to file such lawsuits against drug manufacturers (i.e. the state of West Virginia), but they are the first tribe to seek retribution for the companies’ contributions to the opioid epidemic.
Drug-related deaths among American and Alaskan natives is double the rate of the U.S. as a whole, according to the Indian health service. The Cherokee Nations leads the nation in prescription opioid abuse. And according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, in 2015, 845 million milligrams of opioids were distributed in the Cherokee Nation, which includes 14 counties.
Richard Fields, attorney for the Cherokee Nation:
“These defendants really had the ability to limit the number of deaths and the level of addiction if they just followed the law.”
“The goal is to get justice for the Cherokee Nation and to recover the extraordinary losses they’ve suffered as a result of the opioid epidemic.”
CVS Health issued a statement to STAT which noted the company’s “stringent policies, procedures and tools” which ensure pharmacists “properly exercise their corresponding responsibility to determine whether a controlled substance prescription was issued for a legitimate medical purpose…”
Also in a statement, Cardinal Health said the company is confident that the law is on their side, and they will defend themselves “vigorously” against the plaintiff’s “misunderstanding of the the law.”
AmerisourceBergen stated that it was reviewing the lawsuit, and noted the complexity of the opioid abuse issue as it “spans the full healthcare spectrum including manufacturers, wholesalers, insurers, prescribers, pharmacists and regulatory and enforcement agencies.”
At the time of this writing, other companies had not yet issued statements.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology