The Cherokee Nation Warrior Memorial in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Photo: Ozzy Kiss

Cherokee Nation details devastating impacts of opioid crisis in Oklahoma

The Cherokee Nation is defending its right to pursue drug companies and drug stores for flooding its homeland with prescription opioids.

Documents filed in federal court on Friday detail the impacts of opioids sold within Cherokee territory in northeastern Oklahoma. From newborns with addictions to rising crime rates, the tribe's health and welfare is at risk, attorneys wrote.

"The opioid epidemic has taken a particularly heartbreaking toll on Cherokee children," attorneys for the tribe told the court. "According to the executive director of the Nation’s Indian Child Welfare office, there has been 'a steady increase' in adults abusing opioid drugs and whose children, as a result of that drug abuse, have come through the ICW system.'"

The documents were filed in federal court because the drug companies and drug stores are refusing to submit to the tribe's jurisdiction. They have requested a preliminary injunction to prevent the Cherokee Nation court system from moving forward with a lawsuit filed by the tribe in April.

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 tribe is threatened.

"This epidemic has affected every facet of our society: our economy, our hospitals, our schools and our homes," Chief Bill John Baker wrote in an opinion published in The Oklahoman last week. "Our children are especially threatened by the epidemic, putting the very future of the Cherokee Nation at risk."

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 jurisdiction case.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the federal court case, McKesson Corp. v. Hembree.

The tribal court case is Cherokee Nation v. McKesson Corp. The defendants include major retailers CVS, Walgreens and Wal-mart, which operate pharmacies on tribal territory. The other defendants are the three largest drug distributors in the United States.

Read More on the Story:
Cherokee Nation: 107 opioid pills per adult were sold in tribe's district in 2015 (The Oklahoman 7/24)
Drug Crisis Rattles Cherokee Nation, With More Children Born Addicted to Opioids and Moved into Foster Homes (Newsweek 7/24)
Drug firms knew opiates were being abused on Cherokee reservations but did nothing, lawsuit alleges (ABA Journal 7/24)

Notes from the Chief:
Bill John Baker: Fighting for justice for our people (The Oklahoman 7/22)

Related Stories
Cherokee Nation blames pharmaceutical industry for opioid crisis (April 20, 2017)

Join the Conversation