The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit Monday against major manufacturers and distributors of opioids, joining other tribes that have filed similar lawsuits.
The case in U.S. District Court in North Dakota against 24 opioid industry defendants seeks monetary damages, alleging the companies have seen “blockbuster profits” while the use of opioids has taken an enormous toll on the tribe.
It’s the second lawsuit filed by former North Dakota U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon and former South Dakota U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, who now work for national firm Robins Kaplan.
“The opioid epidemic has hit Indian County hard, and the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is no exception,” Purdon said in a statement.
The complaint notes that Native Americans suffer the highest per capita rate of opioid overdoses. It alleges the defendants used false and misleading advertising and failed to prevent drug diversion, creating a “virtually limitless opioid market.”
While Purdon was U.S. Attorney, he announced a 14-month federal drug trafficking investigation on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in 2012 that yielded multiple arrests, including several defendants accused of distributing prescription opioids.
Robins Kaplan attorneys filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota in January. That case is among several lawsuits filed by communities around the country that are consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio.
Like the South Dakota case, the lawsuit from Standing Rock seeks unspecified damages for allegations of deceptive trade practices, fraudulent and negligent conduct and alleged violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act. It seeks injunctive relief that would prevent defendants from continuing unlawful conduct.
Purdon said in an interview he thinks additional tribes from the Great Plains will file similar lawsuits.
John Parker, senior vice president of the trade association Healthcare Distribution Alliance, said in a statement that the abuse of prescription opioids is a complex challenge that requires “a collaborative and systemic response.”
“Given our role, the idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated,” Parker said. “Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”