Tribes Hit Drug Makers with Opioid Epidemic Lawsuits

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe and Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate filed legal action alleging drug makers deceptively marketed the powerful painkillers now fueling the opioid epidemic.

Attorneys for the tribes say that drug makers and distributors lied about the addictive nature of the drugs to boost their profits; however, the deceptive marketing to doctors and patients suffering from chronic pain caused the opioid epidemic the tribes now have to deal with.

“Indian Country has been particularly hard hit, causing … to suffer substantial loss of resources, economic damages, and damages to the health and welfare of its members,” alleges the lawsuit.

Further, allege the tribes’ opioid epidemic lawsuit, drug distributors exacerbated the problem by failing to catch suspicious orders of the painkillers. This failure to appropriately monitor opioid drugs allowed drug companies to get rich on the addictive nature of the substances.

opioid-pill-millThe tribes’ opioid lawsuit points out that use of opioid painkillers was heavily restricted prior to the 1990s.

Doctors were only allowed short term use of the drugs for pain relief. Drug makers, however, saw a “lucrative market” in those suffering from chronic pain and gained approval to market the drug for extended use.

The tribes say drug makers failed to warn doctors and patients about the addictive nature of the painkillers, causing the opioid epidemic the tribes are now experiencing.

“This epidemic has been building for years,” alleges the lawsuit. “The conditions for its creation and acceleration were intentionally brought about by Defendants, who made billions of dollars off the epidemic.”

The tribes say that they are taking legal action “in the public interest to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all members of the Tribes.” They say that the opioid epidemic fueled by drug maker greed caused reasonably foreseeable damages to the tribes, including:

  • Costs of medical and therapeutic care, prescription drug purchases, and other treatment costs for patients suffering from opioid addiction or disease, overdose, or death;
  • Counseling, treatment and rehabilitation services;
  • Treatment of infants born with opioid-related medical conditions;
  • Welfare and foster care for children whose parents suffer from opioid-related disability or incapacitation; and
  • Law enforcement and public safety relating to the epidemic within the tribal communities.

The tribes say that drug makers are also responsible for the lost productivity of tribal members, increased administrative costs, and the lost opportunity for growth and self-determination caused by the opioid epidemic.

The tribes are seeking actual and consequential damages along with compensation to “abate the ongoing public nuisance caused by opioids.” The tribes want a court order establishing an abatement fund they can draw upon to support efforts to end the opioid epidemic.

“This epidemic has overwhelmed our public-health and law-enforcement services, drained resources for addiction therapy, and sent the cost of caring for children of opioid-addicted parents skyrocketing. This is a crisis that affects virtually every tribal member in the state,” a representative for the tribes said a statement.

The SD Tribes’ Opioid Epidemic Lawsuit is Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, et al. v. Purdue Pharma LP, et al., Case No. 4:18-cv-04003, in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota.

If you or a loved one have been affected by the opioid epidemic, call the attorneys at McDonald Worley to evaluate any legal claims you may have.


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