Cherokee Nation Opioid Suit on Move to State Court

The Cherokee Nation’s lawsuit accusing opioid distributors and retail pharmacies of fomenting an opioid crisis in the Cherokee Nation moved from tribal court to Oklahoma state court Jan. 19.

The move to Oklahoma state court in Sequoyah County comes after the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma granted a request from the distributors and pharmacies to bar the case from proceeding in tribal court based on lack of jurisdiction.

The lawsuit, which will now proceed in Oklahoma state court in Sequoyah County, accuses McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, Inc., AmerisourceBergen, CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of enabling prescription opioids to fall into illegal channels, didn’t alert regulators to suspiciously large quantity orders and used financial incentives to increase opioid sales.

The complaint also includes claims of nuisance, gross negligence and unjust enrichment.

The Cherokee Nation is seeking financial compensation for the health care, social services, law enforcement, and other costs associated with the opioid epidemic.

“The defendants have delayed, but not avoided, a public examination of their role in creating the opioid epidemic that has caused devastating harm across the country—especially in the Cherokee Nation,” said William Ohlemeyer of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, counsel to the Cherokee Nation, said in a Jan. 22 statement. “We are prepared to present our evidence in the Oklahoma state court and look forward to holding the defendants accountable for their wrongdoing.”

Meanwhile, the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, of which defendants AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson are members, said in a statement on the opioid epidemic it understands “the tragic impact the opioid epidemic has on communities across the country” but also said “we aren’t willing to be scapegoats.”

Distributors are “logistics companies” that store, transport, and deliver medicines, HDA said. “We don’t make medicines, market medicines, prescribe medicines, or dispense them to consumers.”

“Given our role, the idea that distributors are solely responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and how it is regulated,” HDA said.

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