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Cherokee Nation blames pharmaceutical industry for opioid crisis

The Cherokee Nation flag flies in Oklahoma. Photo: J. Stephen Conn

The Cherokee Nation is suing the largest drug companies and drug stores in the United States, accusing them of contributing to the opioid epidemic among its citizens.

The lawsuit was filed in Cherokee Nation court. It says the pharmaceutical industry hasn't done enough to prevent the spread of opioids in northeastern Oklahoma, calling the drugs “more deadly than heroin.”

“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,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in a press release. “As we fight this epidemic in our hospitals, our schools and our Cherokee homes, we will also use our legal system to make sure the companies, who put profits over people while our society is crippled by this epidemic, are held responsible for their actions.”

Defendants in Cherokee Nation v. McKesson Corp. include CVS , Walgreens and Wal-mart, which operate pharmacies on tribal territory. The other defendants are the three largest drug distributors in the U.S., The Washington Post reported.

Generally, tribal courts lack jurisdiction over non-Indian entities. But the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision known as Montana v. United States, recognized an exception in situations where the "political integrity, the economic security, or the health or welfare" of a tribal nation is threatened.

The exception, however, has been difficult for tribes to assert. And the Supreme Court failed to provide guidance on the issue last year when it deadlocked on Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. The eight justices were unable to reach a decision in the closely watched tribal jurisdiction case.

Read More on the Story:
Cherokee Nation sues drug firms, retailers for flooding communities with opioids (The Washington Post 4/20)
Cherokee Nation files lawsuit targeting CVS and other pharmacies in opioid crisis (STAT 4/20)
Cherokee Nation suing drug companies for alleged 'epidemic' of opioid abuse (The Tulsa World 4/20)