Recently, a federal judge in Oklahoma issued a setback to a “Cherokee Nation lawsuit seeking to stop the flow of addictive opioid painkillers in its territory by issuing a preliminary injunction to prevent the case from being heard in tribal court.” The judge, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern, came to his decision because he felt the “tribal court lacked jurisdiction because the lawsuit involving six wholesale drug distributors and pharmacy operators does not directly concern tribal self-government.” When discussing his decision, he said:
“While noting Defendants’ (Cherokee Nation‘s) evidence of the harm opioid abuse has caused to individual tribal members and families, and costs borne by the tribe, the Court cannot plausibly find that such harm is ‘catastrophic for tribal self-government’.”
But when was the lawsuit filed in the first place, and why? For starters, the Cherokee Nation sought “redress in tribal court from wholesale drug distributors and pharmacy operators” back in April of 2017, and was the first Native American tribe to do so. It decided to pursue legal action because the tribe believed “the highly addictive painkillers were saturating its territory and contributing to violence, delinquency, and mortality.” In the lawsuit, the Cherokee Nation also argued “that the defendants had turned a blind eye to problems in their supply chains by failing to protect opioids from theft or refusing to fulfill suspicious orders by pharmacies, doctors, and patients.”
The Cherokee Nation isn’t the only group unsettled by the flood of opioids into the country’s communities. In fact, “several states, local governments, and tribes have sued drug makers and distributors over the drug crisis” that has since been “declared a national public health emergency by President Donald Trump.”
When commenting on the judge’s recent decision, Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree said:
“We continue to believe in our case, and we are prepared to fight to hold these companies accountable in state court.”
So how have drug distributors and pharmacy operators responded to the recent decision? Well, “McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc, AmerisourceBergen, CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc and Wal-Mart Stores Inc responded with a lawsuit in federal court in Tulsa in June 2017, saying the tribe lacked jurisdiction.” In addition, the companies all said the Cherokee Nation lawsuit “attempted to civilly enforce a federal statute, the Controlled Substances Act, under the guise of the tribe’s statutory and common law.”
What do you think? Should more be done about the opioid crisis? After all, opioids unnecessarily claim hundreds of lives each year. Between 2003 and 2014 alone, “more than 350 opioid-related deaths occurred within the Cherokee Nation, which comprises 14 counties in northeast Oklahoma,” according to the Cherokee Nation lawsuit. It will certainly be interesting to see how the Trump administration will combat this growing concern.