August 2, 2018
On August 2, 2018, NPR and co-counsel Whitten Burrage filed lawsuits on behalf of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations against several large pharmaceutical companies that manufacture highly addictive and often deadly opioid painkillers—including Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen, and Cephalon.
The lawsuits, filed in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma and Bryan County, Oklahoma, respectively, allege the Defendants conspired to deceptively market their drugs, leading to the ongoing opioid addiction epidemic claiming the lives of men and women of the tribal nations. The opioid addiction epidemic continues to impact the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations along with tribal nations across the country particularly hard. As of 2012, 10 percent of Native Americans over the age of 12 used prescription pain medication for nonprescription purposes. From 2010 to 2014 alone, the death rate for heroin overdoses among Native Americans rose 236 percent.
In a press release about the lawsuits, Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby explained, “The number of Native American deaths across the country that are being fueled by the opioid epidemic is staggering. Families are being torn apart and our children are being born addicted as a result. We will hold these companies accountable for the devastation they have caused our tribes.” Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton echoed these sentiments, saying, “The members of the Choctaw Nation have suffered unimaginably, while these companies have made billions of dollars. With these lawsuits, we look to recoup the damages the companies inflicted upon our tribes and end this scourge of death and addiction.”
The lawsuits seek to recover damages to compensate the Nations for Defendants’ wrongdoing and to abate the continuing opioid addiction epidemic caused by Defendants’ unlawful conduct. The cases are called Chickasaw Nation v. Purdue Pharma, L.P., et al. and Choctaw Nation v. Purdue Pharma, L.P., et al.