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Opioid lawsuits

OxyContin pills are arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vermont.

The Eastern Shoshone Tribe announced Tuesday that it had filed a federal lawsuit against two dozens pharmaceutical companies over their alleged role in fueling the opioid crisis.

The Eastern Shoshone join the Northern Arapaho Tribe and several other Wyoming entities, including the city of Casper, in filing suit against a broad swath of companies in the pharmaceutical industry, including Purdue, Walgreens, Johnson & Johnson, and Walmart.

In a statement, the tribe quoted the lawsuit and alleged that it “has suffered in several different ways including the substantial increases in child welfare and social service costs associated with opioid addiction.” The tribe also alleges that “its health services have been significantly impacted and education and addiction therapy costs have substantially increased.”

“We could not simply sit back and watch as others took on a huge role of bringing to light what this opioid epidemic has done to people,” Shoshone Business Council Chairman Vernon Hill said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “We knew we had to join the fight and share how our reservation and tribal members have also been severely impacted.”

The suit was filed in Ohio, where hundreds of opioid-related lawsuits from around the country are being transferred. The defendants have broadly denied any wrongdoing previously.

The complaint filed by the tribe’s lawyers is similar to that filed by other entities against the companies. It broadly alleges that a number of the defendants who manufactured and marketed opioids knew that opioids were not considered medically appropriate for chronic pain, and that those companies set out to change that consensus among physicians.

To do that, the tribe alleges, the pharmaceutical companies used marketing “schemes” to convince doctors that the painkillers were appropriate for chronic pain. The companies also spent “millions of dollars on promotional activities and materials that falsely denied or minimized the risks of opioids while overstating the benefit of using them for chronic pain.”

The other defendants, like Walmart and Walgreens, are accused of failing to stop the “diversion” — selling or giving — of prescription opioids.

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“The Distributor Defendants’ actions and omissions in failing to effectively prevent diversion and failing to monitor, report, and prevent suspicious orders have enabled the unlawful diversion of opioids,” the suit claims.

The lawsuit also notes that Native Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the opioid crisis. The tribe cites a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that found that “in 2012 ... 1 in 10 American Indians/Native Americans (over the age of 12) used prescription pain medicine for nonprescription purposes, compared with 1 in 20 whites and 1 in 30 African-Americans.”

The suit further notes that “drug overdose deaths among all Americans increased more than 200 percent between 1999 and 2015. In that same time, the death rate rose by more than 500 percent among Native Americans and native Alaskans.”

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Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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