Six of the top drug distributors and pharmacies in the United States inundated the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma with hundreds of millions of highly addictive opioid pain pills, according to a lawsuit filed in tribal court.
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It alleges the companies violated sovereign Cherokee laws by failing to prevent prescription pain pills such as oxycodone and hydrocodone from ending up on the black market, profiting from the situation, and damaging communities, the Washington Post reported.
"Defendants turned a blind eye to the problem of opioid diversion and profited from the sale of prescription opioids to the citizens of the Cherokee Nation in quantities that far exceeded the number of prescriptions that could reasonably have been used for legitimate medical purposes," according to the lawsuit.
Named in the suit are the three largest drug distributors in the U.S.: McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen. Together, they control about 85 percent of prescription drug distribution nationwide. The suit also names major players in the retail drug business, including CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, the Post reported.
Lawyers for the Cherokee Nation said that by filing the suit in tribal court, they hope to get quicker access to internal corporate records that could reveal what the companies knew about the diversion of pain pills across the nation's 14 counties in northeastern Oklahoma.
This is the first lawsuit filed by an Indian nation against companies for harm done by prescription pain pills, the Post reported.
The U.S. is struggling with a nationwide prescription opioid abuse epidemic that has caused nearly 180,000 deaths since 2000.
West Virginia has the highest prescription drug overdose rate in the nation, and seven counties in the state last month filed suits against many of the same corporations named in the Cherokee Nation lawsuit, the Post reported.
Those suits seek billions of dollars in damages and allege the companies created a public threat by sending large amounts of prescription drugs into the state.
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