Cherokee Nation Settles for $75 Million After Leading Opioid Lawsuits

By Vaidehi Mehta, Esq. on October 06, 2021 | Last updated on October 15, 2021

This past summer saw the latest wave of litigation against the nation's largest pharmaceutical companies in response to the continued flood of opioids plaguing numerous American communities. As with previous years, the 2021 cases are settling, with various state and local governments taking corporate money in lieu of prosecution. A small silver lining may be that at least some Native Americans are getting a sliver of reparation, if not their day in court.

State Suits Settling for Billions

McKesson, Amerisource Bergen, Cardinal Health — you may not recognize these names as you would Johnson & Johnson, now more a household name than ever due to its COVID-19 vaccine development. The first three are the country's largest pharmaceutical distributors, the latter the largest manufacturer. All four are responsible for selling countless Americans opioid painkillers, even in the face of surging rates of overdose-related deaths.

After being sued by numerous state attorneys general, all four companies are now participating in a settlement totaling $26 billion, with state and local governments across the country. Though governments suing drug companies is nothing new, the opioid lawsuits were led by a novel player on the national legal scene: tribal governments.

Litigation Leader Cherokee Nation Gets Millions

Native American communities, unfortunately, were not immune from the large-scale drug peddling by companies including McKesson, Amerisource Bergen, and Cardinal. Distributors have flooded the Cherokee Nation with almost 200 million painkillers in two years — the equivalent of 153 pills per person. Among the first governments to file a case against opioid distributors in 2017, the Cherokee Nation was the first sovereign tribal government to sue corporations for harm done to its community.

Last week, the Cherokee Nation announced that it would be settling the case, literally following suit to numerous other government and citizen plaintiffs that have taken settlements with Big Pharma in lieu of going to trial. The distributors have agreed to pay the tribe $75 million to settle the claims of the opioid crisis created on Cherokee lands. This is the first deal of its kind with any tribal government in the country.

Resources for Opioid Lawsuits

Although this case has settled, if you or a loved one have suffered due to negligence by a prescribing doctor or another party, you still have options. Consulting with a local health care attorney is the best way to address your specific situation. You can also learn more about opioid law in the following Findlaw articles and blogs.

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