"While 200,000 Americans died from prescription opioid overdoses from 2000 to 2016, the national epidemic has hit Indian reservations particularly hard," Sari Horwitz reports for The Washington Post. "Native Americans suffer the highest per capita rate of opioid overdoses, and one in 10 American Indian youths age 12 or older used prescription opioids for nonmedical purposes in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s double the rate for white youths."
The suit accuses the defendants, including Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Allergan PLC, McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen Corp, of failing to comply with federal prescription drug laws meant to prevent the abuse of opioids. "The lawsuit accuses the companies of violating federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations laws, deceptive trade practices, and fraudulent and negligent conduct," Horwitz reports.
The case is the latest in a string of tribes filing lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors. In April 2017 the Cherokee in Oklahoma was the first tribe to file suit. Three other tribes in Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Carolina have filed similar suits in the past three weeks. The South Dakota suit is the first involving multiple tribes and the first representing the Lakota Sioux.
Jurisdiction may be a sticking point in the suits. In the Cherokee case, the defendants argued that Cherokee tribal courts don't have jurisdiction over them and therefore can't sue; the judge is still deliberating on whether to keep the case in tribal court or transfer it to federal court.