The Navajo Nation [official website] filed a lawsuit [claim, PDF] on Wednesday in the US District Court for the District of New Mexico [official website] seeking damages from 11 major opioid drug manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies.
The claim asserts that the defendants’ conduct is the cause of the opioid epidemic. The plaintiffs assert that the epidemic was caused by the defendants “engag[ing], and continu[ing] to engage, in a massive marketing campaign to misstate and conceal the risks of treating chronic pain with prescription opioids.” The campaign allegedly led to widespread addiction and “in turn drugs being transferred from a legitimate channel to an illegitimate one.” Plaintiffs contend that Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals, McKesson, Cardinal Health, Amerisource Bergen, CVS, Walgreen’s, Alliance and Walmart, engaged in a conspiracy by “agree[ing] with each other to accomplish the unlawful purposes of marketing, selling, distributing, and retailing prescription opioids through violations of law and misrepresentation.” The complaint further alleges breach of federal law by pharmacies and opioid distributors for failing to alert regulators about suspicious orders and illegitimate prescriptions.
As proof of standing, the Navajo Nation cited statistics from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [official website] showing 7,309 drug overdose deaths [materials] between 2014 and 2016 in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, where significant parts of the Navajo Nation are located. The primary cause of the deaths was overdose from prescription and illegal opioids.
Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch said [press release] 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.”
The Navajo Nation’s action is most recent of multiple lawsuits by municipalities, and states [JURIST reports] against the pharmaceutical companies related to the opioid crisis.