KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

full issue

Drug Companies Turned ‘Blind Eye’ To Opioids Flooding Community, Cherokee Nation’s Suit Claims

“Today, we are facing another challenge, a plague that has been set upon the Cherokee people by these corporations,” said Todd Hembree, attorney general for the Cherokees. “Their main goal is profit, and this scourge has cost lives and the Cherokee Nation millions.”

The Washington Post: Cherokee Nation Sues Drug Firms, Retailers For Flooding Communities With Opioids
Lawyers for the Cherokee Nation opened a new line of attack against the pharmaceutical industry Thursday, filing a lawsuit in tribal court that accuses the nation’s six top drug distributors and pharmacies of flooding communities in Oklahoma with hundreds of millions of highly addictive pain pills. The suit alleges that the companies violated sovereign Cherokee laws by failing to prevent the diversion of pain pills to the black market, profiting from the growing opioid epidemic and decimating communities across the nation’s 14 counties in the state. (Higham and Bernstein, 4/20)

Stat: Cherokee Nation Sues Pharmacies Over Tribal Opioid Crisis
“These drug wholesalers and retailers have profited greatly by allowing the Cherokee Nation to become flooded with prescription opioids,” the lawsuit alleges. “They have habitually turned a blind eye to known or knowable problems in their own supply chains.” (Thielking, 4/20)

The Hill: Cherokee Nation Sues Drug Firms Over Opioid Epidemic: Report
The suit lists AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson Corp., which are reportedly three of the nation’s largest drug distributors, controlling almost 85 percent of the country’s prescription pill distribution. The suit also names major corporations who sell drugs including CVS, Walgreens and Wal-Mart. (Beavers, 4/20)

In other news on the opioid crisis —

The Washington Post: The DEA Warned NFL Doctors About Drug Laws In 2011. It Didn’t Go Well.
On a cold day in February 2011, doctors and athletic trainers from the NFL’s 32 teams gathered at a hotel ballroom in downtown Indianapolis. Under scrutiny for its handling of prescription drugs, the league had invited the Drug Enforcement Administration , and an official named Joseph T. Rannazzisi made the trip from Washington armed with more than 80 slides of charts, photographs and bullet points about federal laws that govern how the doctors can medicate professional football players suffering from pain and injuries. (Maese, 4/20)

Kaiser Health News: What Doesn’t Kill You Can Maim: Unexpected Injuries From Opioids
The trouble started for Lisa when she took a blood pressure pill and one to control seizures, along with methadone, a drug used to help wean patients off heroin. “I inadvertently did the methadone cocktail and I went to sleep for like 48 hours,” Lisa said, rolling her eyes and coughing out a laugh. “It kicked my butt. It really kicked my butt.” (Bebinger, 4/21)

Courier-Journal: Drug Increases In Austin As Families Struggle To Survive 
The Courier-Journal spent six months examining how [Johnathon] Cooke, the rest of the community and the larger world has responded to this singular outbreak, interviewing dozens of health workers and experts, patients, community members, state officials and others; examining state, federal and community records; and witnessing the start of the city's recovery. What happened here provides lessons for the entire country about preventing a deadly epidemic and stopping its spread. (Ungar, 4/21)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.