Drug distributors, PBMs seek to block Cherokee Nation opioid suit
Major pharmacy benefit managers and drug distributors have sued the Cherokee Nation over its attempt to make them pay for the widespread distribution of opioids that has allegedly contributed to the opioid addiction that has beset its tribal members.
Drug distributors and PBMs including McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen Corp., Walgreens, Wal-Mart Stores and CVS Health on Thursday told an Oklahoma federal court that the Cherokee Nation can't sue them because they aren't tribal corporations and they did not operate on the tribe's land. Their complaint says the tribe lacks jurisdiction because the Cherokee Nation cannot enforce U.S. federal law.
"Tribal jurisdiction over nonmembers does not extend past land that constitutes 'Indian Country,' " the companies' complaint said.
The Cherokee Nation accused the companies of exacerbating the opioid epidemic, alleging in its lawsuit that the companies should have prevented rather than profited from the mass distribution of addictive pain pills.
The nation's complaint alleged that drug distributors and pharmacies knowingly or negligently allowed vast amounts of opioids to flow into the black market for their own financial gain, crippling the Cherokee Nation both financially and emotionally.
"The defendants' filing (on Thursday) is not just the usual attempt to delay and avoid justice, it's an attack on the very sovereignty of our nation and our ability to protect our families from the illegal activities of these companies that are causing extraordinary harm and suffering to our people," Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree said in a statement.
The nation's suit claimed that some of the largest U.S. drug distributors regularly filled suspicious orders from pharmacies, and pharmacies habitually ignored red flags in questionable prescription presentations that would require further investigation.
The federally recognized sovereign Indian nation is based in Oklahoma and sought an injunction to curb the companies' alleged practices that fuel the black market as well as unspecified damages.
Dublin, Ohio-based drug and medical supplies distributor Cardinal Health said the company purchases medications from pharmaceutical manufacturers and ships them only to licensed, regulated pharmacies, clinics and hospitals—not the public. It has systems in place to combat opioid diversion, the company said.
Opioid painkillers netted $9.6 billion in sales in 2015, according to IMS Health. More than 33,000 people overdosed on opioids in 2015, up 15% from 28,600 in 2014, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Cardinal, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson account for more than 85% of all revenue from U.S. drug distribution, estimated at $378 billion in 2015, the lawsuit said.
Stemming the opioid crisis has been a high priority of many organizations, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under its newly installed commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb.
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