Two more North Dakota Native American tribes have filed federal lawsuits against the opioid industry.
The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Spirit Lake Tribe filed complaints Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, where similar lawsuits have been consolidated.
The new cases mean that four out of five North Dakota tribal nations have now joined the litigation. The lawsuits against 24 opioid manufacturers and distributors allege devastating public health effects from the opioid epidemic and seek monetary damages.
National law firm Robins Kaplan previously filed similar lawsuits on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, as well as the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and the Menominee Indian Tribe. The cases have been consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio.
Tim Purdon, former North Dakota U.S. attorney who now works for national law firm Robins Kaplan, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation joins the litigation at some point.
“We are seeing more and more tribes across the country filing cases in federal court,” Purdon said Thursday. “The more tribes that step forward into this litigation will ensure that tribal voices, tribal nations are heard in the resolution of this litigation.”
The complaint says Native American communities have been disproportionately affected by the opioid crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said one in 10 Native Americans used prescription opioids for non-medical purposes in 2012, compared with 1 in 20 whites.
The tribes also are represented by former South Dakota U.S. attorney Brendan Johnson, who also works for Robins Kaplan.