(Bloomberg) — The three largest U.S. opioid distributors agreed to pay $75 million to the Cherokee Nation Native American tribe in Oklahoma to settle allegations that the companies helped fuel a public health crisis with their highly addictive painkillers.
McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Corp. on Tuesday announced the deal, which is the first opioid settlement with a tribal government. It is separate from a $26 billion proposal by the distributors and Johnson & Johnson to resolve thousands of suits by states and local governments over the medications. That deal has yet to be finalized.
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The settlement with the Cherokee Nation “will allow the companies to focus their attention and resources on the safe and secure delivery of medications and therapies while delivering meaningful relief to affected communities,” McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen said in a joint statement. Reuters was first to report the deal.
Cherokee Nation still has opioid claims against pharmacy providers including Walmart Inc., CVS Health Corp., Rite Aid Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., said William Ohlemeyer, a lawyer representing the tribe. “We have a trial set for right about this time next year,” he said.
The Cherokee Nation was the first tribe to sue distributors in 2017, accusing them of violating tribal law by failing to stop the painkillers from winding up in the hands of drug dealers and harming people living in the 14 Oklahoma counties that make up tribal lands. The companies supplied millions of pills, causing thousands of addictions and fatal overdoses, the nation said.
Other tribes, including the Kenaitze in Alaska, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, quickly joined in, suing opioid makers, distributors and retailers.
States, cities, counties and tribes filed almost 4,000 suits against more than a dozen drug makers, distributors and pharmacies seeking compensation for billions spent battling the U.S. opioid epidemic.
The Cherokee Nation v. McKesson Corp. et al., 18-cv-0056-RAW (E.D. Okla.).
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