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Press Releases

Opioid Distributors And Retailers Funneled 184 Million Pain Pills Into The Cherokee Nation, Fueling The Opioid Addiction Crisis

TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma — As part of its campaign to end the opioid crisis and hold opioid distributors and pharmacy chains accountable, the Cherokee Nation today released disturbing new data from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs demonstrating the dramatic oversupply of prescription opioid drugs by these companies. In 2015 and 2016, distributors shipped and pharmacies dispensed 184 million opioid pain pills in the 14 counties in northeast Oklahoma that comprise the Cherokee Nation – or 153 doses for every man, woman, and child in the area.

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August 14, 2017

Cherokee Nation leaders condemn opioid industry for overwhelming the Cherokee Nation with lethal painkillers in search of profit; call for justice in recent lawsuit

TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma — As part of its campaign to end the opioid crisis and hold opioid distributors and pharmacy chains accountable, the Cherokee Nation today released disturbing new data from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs demonstrating the dramatic oversupply of prescription opioid drugs by these companies. In 2015 and 2016, distributors shipped and pharmacies dispensed 184 million opioid pain pills in the 14 counties in northeast Oklahoma that comprise the Cherokee Nation – or 153 doses for every man, woman, and child in the area. For the first quarter of 2017, data indicate these levels of distribution and dispensing have continued unabated. These numbers, far beyond any legitimate medical need, are the result of diversion of large quantities of opioid drugs from legitimate channels to illicit uses. Distributors and retail pharmacies have a duty under the law to prevent diversion – a duty they shamefully have failed to meet. For example, distributors are required to prevent diversion by not shipping suspicious, often outrageously large orders to pharmacies and by reporting suspicious orders, when discovered, to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Pharmacies are prohibited from filling prescriptions that raise established red flags, such as when a single customer seeks to fill multiple prescriptions for the same drug at the same time or travels a long distance from home to fill a prescription. In April, the Cherokee Nation filed a lawsuit in tribal court against McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., AmerisourceBergen, CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc., and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. The tribe charges in its complaint that those companies have failed to prevent diversion, and that the resulting flood of opioid drugs into Indian country has fueled the opioid epidemic sweeping the Cherokee Nation.

Cherokee Nation leaders reacted to the new data by condemning opioid distributors and pharmacy retailers for flooding the Cherokee Nation with an excessive supply of prescription opioids: “While the opioid industry has made billions, the Cherokee Nation has been ravaged by the opioid crisis,” said Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker. “It is unconscionable to pump these massive quantities of dangerous drugs into our community. As Principal Chief, I condemn these companies for their greed and the irreparable damage they have inflicted upon our Nation. I applaud Attorney General Hembree for his leadership on this issue.”

“There is no legitimate explanation for numbers on this scale,” said Attorney General Todd Hembree. “The opioid industry has a legal and moral duty to prevent diversion of the addictive and dangerous drugs they sell. Our lawsuit will hold the defendant companies accountable for the harm they have caused, and force them to change their behavior and meet their obligations. The citizens of the Cherokee Nation deserve nothing less.”

According to Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare, in 2015 opioid addiction was involved in 40 percent of the cases in which Cherokee children were required to be separated from their families. “When families are broken apart, the children live in chaos,” said Nikki Baker Limore, Executive Director of Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare. “Too often, our doctors and nurses see babies who enter the world suffering from opioid withdrawal symptoms. Before they take their first breath, these innocent newborns are condemned to long term or even irreversible health problems. To see these babies and think that their future is in jeopardy because opioid distributors and pharmacy retailers value profit over people – it is just outrageous and has to stop.”

To learn more about efforts to combat the opioid epidemic in the Cherokee Nation, please visit www.theopioidcrisis.com

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