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Mohawk Tribe Crippled by Opioid Crisis, Lawsuit Filed

— January 10, 2019

St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has filed a lawsuit in federal court against prescription drug makers and distributors claiming the companies downplayed the addictive effects of their products, which have crippled the community.

St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has filed a lawsuit in federal court against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors for the “devastating effects” prescription opioid use has had on Akwesasne.  The native American tribe is seeking to hold the firms responsible for the massive costs incurred in responding to the public-health crisis.  Their lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York on Dec. 21 and claims the companies who manufacture, market, and distribute opioids carried out a complex scheme to make both physicians and patients believe the prescriptions were safe and non-addictive when taken for pain.

“Their scheme created the worst human-caused epidemic in modern medical history and one that has ravaged tribal communities, including the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe,” according to the tribe.  Members are being represented by the Seattle, Washington based Keller Rohrback L.L.P.

Mohawk Tribe Crippled by Opioid Crisis, Lawsuit Filed
Photo by Jess Lindner on Unsplash

“The opioid epidemic is far more devastating and has had a more profound cost on our tribal community than anyone could have ever imagined,” Tribal Chief Beverly Cook said, adding, “An entire generation of tribal members is growing up in the shadow of the opioid epidemic, with far-reaching consequences compounded by the historical trauma that our community has endured…Children whose parents are addicted to opioids — including babies born with opioid dependencies as a result of their mothers’ opioid use during pregnancy — often must be removed from their homes.”

The Mohawks experienced the direct effects of the epidemic, including the health effects on tribal members and their families and increased child welfare and foster care cases as well as crime.  It has undertaken efforts to combat the devastating nationwide epidemic, including strategies to prevent opioids from reaching its youth or those without prescriptions who are using illegally.  They’ve also sought to institute community education programs highlighting the dangers of opioids and how to combat them.

Tribal Chief Eric Thompson blamed the crisis on “the foreseeable consequence of opioid manufacturer’s duplicitous promotion and distribution of highly addictive opioids products, while deliberately downplaying the significant risks.”  He added, “Opioids have reshaped the daily operation and lifeways of the tribe in numerous ways, including increased drug-related offenses affecting the criminal justice system as a whole; additional resources spent on community and social programs; loss of workplace productivity, due to opioid addiction among employees; and prevalent opioid abuse throughout the community…In response, the tribe has continually allocated resources to drug-abuse prevention and education, outpatient treatment programs through Health Services, inpatient treatment at the Partridge House, social services programming, public safety and a Healing to Wellness Court, as well as participation in community coalitions aimed at reducing prescription drug abuse.”

The Mohawk tribe does not have a full-time recovery facility for addicts to go to get clean, “leading tribal members who complete treatment for opioid addiction to return to the same environment where they were abusing opioids,” according to the release.  This makes sustainable recovery nearly impossible and allows the crisis to continue to cripple their community.  St. Regis is also responsible for the expenses associated with taking custody of children living in addict homes and placing them in alternative care.  The lawsuit seeks to recover some of the financial devastation the crisis has created.


Mohawks sue opioid makers

Mohawk Tribe Sues Opioid Companies

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