The Cherokee Nation, one of the nation’s largest Native American tribes, is gearing up to face off against manufacturers and distributors of opioids in early 2021. The complaint, which was remanded to an Oklahoma federal court from the multidistrict litigation in Ohio, was amended to show that Native American tribes have been especially hard hit by the opioid epidemic.

“For example, according to a recent report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the average life span, infant mortality rates, and instances of substance abuse are all significantly worse in Indian Country compared to national averages,” the tribe said in its complaint. “The effects of trauma are compounded through the interconnectedness of Cherokee Nation, where individuals living in the community are highly connected through extended familial networks.”

More than 8.6 million prescriptions of hydrocodone and oxycodone pills were funneled into Adair County within the Cherokee Nation from 2006 to 2014 — enough for 42 pills per person per year, the tribe said.

“Adverse childhood experiences among Cherokee National children related to opioid use and addiction result in household dysfunction, which in turn results in greater likelihood of addictive disorders,” the tribe said. “These kinds of harms affect all or substantially all Cherokee Nation citizens, and harms them in ways that are different from the harms to nontribal communities.

Tribes along with local governments and states across the country filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies accusing them of being a public nuisance by creating and fueling a national opioid epidemic, which has cost them not only in lives with overdose deaths but in economic damages to their communities.

The only case to go to trial so far was brought by two Oklahoma counties. That trial ended with a $465 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson.

Lawyers in Beasley Allen’s Mass Torts Section are representing local governments holding opioid companies accountable for overdose deaths and economic damages in their communities caused by the opioid crisis.

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