Navajo Nation sues over opioid crisis

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. —The Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit April 11 against top opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies for creating a market of highly addictive drugs and for failing to prevent the flow of illicit opioids in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez support the lawsuit directed at Purdue Pharma L.P., Purdue Pharma Inc., Purdue Frederick Company, Endo Health Solutions Inc., McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., AmerisourceBergen Corporation, CVS Health Corporation and Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc

“For generations, Native Americans have disproportionately suffered during health crises, and the opioid crisis is no different,” Begaye said. “We aren’t going to sit back and let our community be torn apart while our children are suffering.”

As a result of the opioid epidemic, Navajo citizens died from opioid overdoses, Navajo children were placed in non-native custody and the Navajo Nation suffered enormous financial losses.

“A generation of children are going to grow up without their parents, and, for far too many, outside of the Navajo Nation the loss of their family and their culture will have a negative impact on their lives and on the vitality of the Navajo Nation as a whole,” Nez said.

Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch said that by bringing this action, the Navajo Nation leads the way for all Native American tribes to hold opioid companies accountable.

“The Navajo Nation will not stand by and watch its people, its culture, and its heritage be destroyed by the scourge of the opioid epidemic,” Branch said.

The attorney general said, since bringing prescription opioids to the market, manufacturers have falsely represented the risks associated with using these drugs to treat chronic pain, which is in patent violation of their legal responsibilities and fuels the opioid epidemic.

She added that pharmacies and opioid distributors have ignored their responsibilities under federal law to investigate and to alert regulators about suspicious orders and illegitimate prescriptions. Because suspicious orders are not reported on, highly dangerous controlled substances are easily diverted into the hands of unauthorized users and into the illegal black market.

Jonathan Hale, Chair of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee of the 23rd Navajo Nation Council said, “The Committee supports the filing of this lawsuit to hold the opioids supply chain actors accountable for their reckless disregard for the impacts opioid addiction would have on our families, children, and communities.”

The Navajo Nation is represented by Indian law specialists Lloyd Miller and Don Simon, partners at Sonosky Chambers, by Scott Gilbert and Richard Shore of Gilbert LLP, and by special counsel Richard Fields of Fields PLLC.

“Distribution of opioids across the country has been grossly excessive and, especially in Indian country, the CDC death rates show a strong correlation over time with the increase in opioid volumes being distributed and dispensed across the country,” Fields said. “This is particularly true for Native American tribes.”

Information provided by the Navajo Nation Attorney General and the Office of the President and Vice President

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