NESPELEM – The Colville Confederated Tribes are suing major manufacturers and distributors of opioids.
The tribe alleges they contributed to devastating public health effects on tribal communities. The action, filed in federal District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, names 25 opioid industry defendants and seeks both compensation for costs associated with the epidemic and injunctive relief.
National mass torts litigation firm Skikos, Crawford, Skikos, and Joseph LLP filed the lawsuit in conjunction with the tribe’s Office of the Reservation Attorney on behalf of the tribe.
The complaint, filed May 10, asserts claims against the defendants for allegedly marketing prescription opioids in a manner that fraudulently concealed and minimized their abuse and addiction risks, and failing to comply with federal prescription drug laws intended to prevent the diversion of prescription opioids and prevent their abuse.
It seeks relief for the defendants’ alleged violation of federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations laws aimed at organized crime, deceptive trade practices, and fraudulent and negligent conduct.
“The Colville Reservation has seen enormous devastation to our people due to opioid addiction,” said Colville Business Council Chairman Rodney Cawston. “We intend to hold these companies accountable for the great harm we have experienced here.”
The complaint describes the severe and devastating impact of the opioid epidemic on Native American communities that threaten the cultural sustainability of tribal nations. All generations have been affected including the tribes’ most precious resource, the youth, according to the filing.
In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one in 10 Native Americans over the age of 12 used prescription pain medication. From 1999 to 2015, drug overdose deaths rose by more than 500 percent among Native Americans.
In 2014, the death rate from opioid overdose for Native Americans was 8.4 per 100,000 in population.
The rates are higher than all other populations, the tribe said. Also, American Indian women are more likely than other populations to be diagnosed with an opioid dependency during pregnancy, impacting the next generation of Native American communities.
The prescription opioid crisis has led to fentanyl and heroin use, resulting in further devastation within Native communities, according to the filing.
“Unfortunately, native people have suffered disproportionately in this epidemic,” Cawston said. “We have joined with other tribes across the country demanding justice for their people.”
Defendants include pharmaceutical manufacturers Purdue Pharma L.P., Teva Pharmaceuticals and Allergan PLC; pharmaceutical distributors McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Corp., and retail pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens.