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In Opioid Battle, Cherokee Want Their Day in Tribal Court

Decimated by addiction, its heritage at risk, the Cherokee Nation is trying to sue pharmacies and distributors. But it may be blocked from doing so.

By

January 25, 2018

(New York Times) TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Cherokee children were disappearing.

At weekly staff meetings, Todd Hembree, the attorney general of the Cherokee Nation, kept hearing about babies in opioid withdrawal and youngsters with addicted parents, all being removed from families. The crush on the foster care system was so great that the unthinkable had become inevitable: 70 percent of the Cherokee foster children in Oklahoma had to be placed in the homes of non-Indians.

“We have addicted mothers and fathers who don’t give a damn about what their children will carry on,” said Mr. Hembree, a descendant of a revered 19th-century chief. “They can’t care for themselves, much less anything else. We are losing a generation of our continuity.”

Across the country, tens of thousands of people are dying from abuse of prescription opioids. Here in the capital of the Cherokee Nation, the epidemic is exacting an additional, deeply painful price. The tribe’s carefully tended heritage, traditions and memories, handed down through generations, are at risk, with so many families now being ruptured by drugs.

That fear is driving an unusual legal battle. Like authorities in dozens of cities, counties and states, including Ohio, New Jersey and Oklahoma itself, Mr. Hembree has sued big opioid distributors. Attorneys general from 41 states recently joined forces to investigate similar options. But instead of going to state court, Mr. Hembree filed his case in the Cherokee Nation’s tribal court. Read more.

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