Three South Dakota tribes are suing a slew of pharmaceutical companies, alleging they contributed to the opioid crisis on reservations by selling addictive drugs without warning of their dangers.
The suit filed Monday by the Rosebud Sioux, Flandreau Sioux and Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribes is being led by former South Dakota U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson and former North Dakota U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon, both from the Robins Kaplan law firm.
The lawsuit was filed against 24 opioid industry companies, including drugmakers like Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals and distributors such as McKesson Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc.
The tribes' suit said these companies engaged in fraud, deceptive marketing and RICO Act violations, and those acts had a disproportional effect on Native Americans. They are asking for "an award of actual and consequential damages" with the amount determined at trial.
More than 70 similar cases have been filed by other groups against these companies as the opioid crisis continues in the United States, but this is the first filed by Native American tribes.
“The effect of opioids on South Dakota Tribes has been horrific,” Johnson said. “This epidemic has overwhelmed our public health and law enforcement services, drained resources for addiction therapy, and sent the cost of caring for children of opioid-addicted parents skyrocketing. This is a crisis that affects virtually every Tribal member in the state.”
The complaint says Native Americans suffer the highest rate of opioid overdose per capita among ethnic groups in the United States. It also quotes a Center for Disease Control and Prevention study which noted that one in 10 Native American youth used prescription opioids for nonmedical purposes in 2012 — double the rate for white youth.
“The prescription opioid crisis has hit Indian Country hard," added Purdon in a release. "At Robins Kaplan, our American Indian Law and Policy Group and our Mass Tort lawyers have come together to make sure the Tribes we represent will be part of the fight to address this national epidemic."