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Cherokee Nation sues opioid vendors

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Cherokee Nation filed a lawsuit against distributors and retailers of opioid medications on Thursday, claiming the companies have contributed to “an epidemic of prescription opioid abuse” within the tribe and have not done enough to prevent tribal members from acquiring illegally prescribed opioid painkillers.

The lawsuit claims that six distribution and pharmacy companies have created conditions in which “vast amounts of opioids have flowed freely from manufacturers to abusers and drug dealers” within the 14 northeastern Oklahoma counties that make up the Cherokee Nation.

The tribe argued that the companies regularly turn a “blind eye” to opioid prescriptions that would require further investigation before pills are dispensed. The lawsuit also alleges that the companies have pursued profits instead of trying to reduce opioid-related addition that has taken the lives of hundreds of Cherokee citizens and cost the tribe hundreds of millions of dollars in health care costs.

“Defendants have created an environment in which drug diversion can flourish,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit seeks to make the companies accountable for creating an oversupply of the drugs, said special counsel Richard Fields, an attorney for the tribe in Washington, D.C.

The lawsuit, filed in the Cherokee Nation District Court, names as defendants distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp., and pharmacies CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

AmerisourceBergen spokesman Gabriel Weissman released a statement saying the company stops the shipment of orders it believes are suspicious.

“The issue of opioid abuse is a complex one that spans the full health care spectrum, including manufacturers, wholesalers, insurers, prescribers, pharmacists and regulatory and enforcement agencies,” Weissman said.

Cardinal Health said in a statement that it will defend itself against the allegations and believes that the lawsuit does not advance “the hard work needed to solve the opioid abuse crisis — an epidemic driven by addiction, demand and the diversion of medications for illegitimate use.”

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