Idaho

Idaho tribe sues drug companies over opioid crisis

The truth about prescription opioids and addiction

Some people might think prescription opioids are safer than alcohol or illegal drugs, but the truth is they carry serious risks and side effects. Talk with your doctor about your concerns and make informed decisions about pain management together.
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Some people might think prescription opioids are safer than alcohol or illegal drugs, but the truth is they carry serious risks and side effects. Talk with your doctor about your concerns and make informed decisions about pain management together.

Idaho’s Nez Perce Tribe is taking the pharmaceutical industry to task for the toll of opioid addiction.

The tribe is suing more than one dozen opioid manufacturers on claims of racketeering, negligence and public nuisance.

“Since the opioid epidemic has come to the tribe, patients on the reservation have been assaulted or robbed in the health clinic parking lot by addicts or traffickers seeking pills,” states the 145-page complaint filed May 18 in federal court. “Within hours of filling a prescription for opioids, patients are often visited by their own family members asking for pills. And, because opioid addiction is sweeping across every age group of Nez Perce tribal members, in some households three generations of addicts are living under the same roof.”

The Seattle-based law firm Keller Rohrback is representing the tribe.

The Nez Perce Tribe has about 3,600 enrolled members. Its reservation encompasses approximately 750,000 acres, including parts of Clearwater, Idaho, Lewis and Nez Perce counties.

In 2017, Nez Perce County experienced a sudden peak in overdose deaths — at least double the number of overdose deaths of any single year in the past nine years, according to the complaint. “Moreover, the number of opioid overdose deaths in Idaho is likely underreported, as drug type is not listed on death certificates in Idaho,” the lawsuit states.

The tribe claims opioids are not only damaging its community, but its heritage.

“Each life lost to a tribe because of the opioid epidemic, each child taken away from a tribal home, and each young tribal member who never learns of his or her heritage harms not only individual families, but also the ability of the tribe to maintain its culture and sovereignty for generations to come,” the complaint states.

According to the complaint, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for all Americans under age 50.

“Since 2000, more than 300,000 Americans have lost their lives to an opioid overdose, more than five times as many American lives as were lost in the entire Vietnam War,” states the complaint. “To put these numbers in perspective: in 1970, when a heroin epidemic swept the United States, there were fewer than 3,000 heroin overdose deaths. And in 1988, around the height of the crack epidemic, there were fewer than 5,000 crack overdose deaths recorded. In 2005, at its peak, methamphetamine was involved in approximately 4,500 deaths. “

The lawsuit echoes a national trend. In the past several weeks, several Idaho counties have signed on to litigation of their own..

Nationally, more than 600 governmental entities have collectively filed lawsuits seeking billions of dollars to address the nation’s opioid crisis. A federal judge in Cleveland, Ohio, is overseeing the cases.

Cynthia Sewell is Idaho Statesman’s government and investigative reporter. Contact her at 208-377-6428, csewell@idahostatesman.com or @CynthiaSewell via Twitter.
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