Idaho's Nez Perce Tribe Sues Pharmaceutical Industry Over Opioids

May 22, 2018

A view of the area around Nez Perce National Historical Park. The Nez Perce tribe is suing pharmaceutical companies for the toll the opioid epidemic has taken on their culture and community.
Credit Stephen Wolfe / Flickr

The Nez Perce tribe is the latest indigenous government to sue drug makers over the opioid crisis gripping the nation.

The complaint from the Nez Perce lists over a dozen manufacturers and distributors of opioids as defendants responsible for the toll addiction has taken on their community.

University of Idaho law professor Dylan Hedden-Nicely specializes in Native American law and isn’t involved in the case. He says it looks like the Nez Perce are taking a similar approach in their suit as other tribes.

“They’ve used public nuisance theories, fraud theories, negligence theories,” says Hedden-Nicely. “They’ve also used statutory deceptive trade practices theories as well on a state and federal level.”

The tribe’s complaint cites data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing Native Americans having the highest death rate from prescription opioids of any ethnic group in 2014.

“Indian tribes have been disproportionately affected by this opioid epidemic,” Hedden-Nicely says. “There’s been statistics that’ve indicated that on certain reservations there’s somewhere in the realm of 107 to 136 opioid pills per every adult, which is just an astronomically large number of medication to be available for any sort of legitimate use.”

The complaint from the tribe is the latest to come out of Idaho. Several counties across the state are pursuing litigation centering on the opioid epidemic.

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