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TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation on Tuesday announced three of the nation’s largest drug distributors will pay it $75 million to settle legal claims that the companies created an opioid crisis on Cherokee tribal lands. The deal is the first of its kind with a tribal government.  

The Cherokee Nation filed the lawsuit in 2017, after it was determined that pharmaceutical distributors flooded Cherokee Nation communities with nearly 200 million opioid painkillers in a two year span. The over abundance equated to 153 opioid pills per individual living in Cherokee Nation communities. 

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Tuesday’s settlement terms have yet to be announced, but a Cherokee Nation press release reported that McKesson, AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation and Cardinal Health will make total payments of slightly over $75 million to be paid over six and a half years. This is the largest settlement in Cherokee Nation history.

“Today’s settlement will make an important contribution to addressing the opioid crisis in the Cherokee Nation Reservation; a crisis that has disproportionately and negatively affected many of our citizens. This settlement will enable us to increase our investments in mental health treatment facilities and other programs to help our people recover,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement.

During a Native News Online live stream in August, Hoskin said he was confident the Cherokee Nation would prevail in the lawsuit.

“Opioid addiction is a real problem, but it's part of a larger array of challenges that we have in dealing with behavioral health,” Hoskin also said during the live stream.

Claims against Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS remain pending, and the Cherokee Nation intends to vigorously pursue those claims through trial. Trial of the pharmacy claims is expected next fall.

The Cherokee Nation was one of the first governments in the country to file a case against opioid distributors and retail pharmacies in 2017. The case was also the first filed by a sovereign tribal government. 

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“This settlement will help reduce and prevent opioid addiction and its deadly consequences in the Cherokee Nation Reservation. We are grateful that these distributors share our desire to solve the problem. We believe today’s settlement will do more to help solve this problem— and solve it sooner — than continued litigation,” Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill said.

Similar claims brought by state and local governments, as well as other Native American nations are pending in several courts across the country, including an MDL proceeding in Cleveland, Ohio.

Tuesday’s settlement is separate from, and independent of, any settlements or discussions in those cases.

The Cherokee Nation Attorney General’s Office partnered with Boies Schiller Flexner, Fields PLLC, and Whitten Burrage to litigate the case.

“Part of the way we get justice in the Cherokee Nation is to make sure we build a health system that can care for the people who are affected,” Hoskin said.

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The Native News Health Desk is made possible by a generous grant from the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation as well as sponsorship support from RxDestroyer, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the National Indian Health Board. This grant funding and sponsorship support have no effect on editorial consideration in Native News Online.
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