Native Americans across the nation have been hit hard by the opioid crisis. Like other governmental bodies, tribes are taking action to hold pharmaceutical companies and companies that distributed opioids responsible.

On September 13, 2019, the Seminole Tribe of Florida filed a federal lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Walgreens, CVS and other opioid manufacturers. The Seminole community alleges that they have been “ravaged by the opioid epidemic” as the tribe has extended massive resources to try to treat members and lost many over the years.

The Seminole Tribe is not alone in taking legal action. Many communities across the state have filed similar suits in response to the Florida opioid crisis. Another Floridian tribe, the Miccosukee Tribe, based in western Broward and Miami-Dade counties, filed a federal suit against many of the same drug companies earlier this year as they have experienced similar devastation within their community.

Impact of Opioid Use on Native American Tribes

The impact of the opioid crisis on Native Americans has been severely damaging. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows that, since 2000, overdose deaths in the Native American population has had a nearly six-fold increase ⁠— the fastest rate of any group in the United States.

The scale of this tragedy within Native American tribes is not only felt by family members; it also affects tribal governance and sustainability. Unlike states, Native American tribes do not receive federal subsidies for Medicare and private insurance companies. This means that tribes have to independently fund healthcare needs of members ⁠— which dramatically increased with the rise in the wake of the opioid epidemic.

In the suit, the Seminole Tribe makes the argument that pharmaceutical companies engaged in deceptive marketing strategies and tactics to sell more drugs ⁠— despite the known health risks.

Other Florida Lawsuits Over Opioid Use

It’s not just Native American tribes who are suing opioid manufacturers and distributors. Several different governmental bodies and agencies ⁠— 27 hospitals, other tribes, cities, counties and even the state of Florida ⁠— have filed opioid lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

What will be the outcome? It’s not clear yet. The landmark win against Johnson & Johnson in Oklahoma is encouraging for groups like the Seminole Tribe. However, a precedent may have been set that would be bad for tribes when a federal court in Oklahoma decided that tribes could not sue drug companies as they are not tribal members. Purdue Pharma’s decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy could also spell trouble. Legal experts predict that such a move might limit what victims like the Seminole Tribe are able to collect.

Even if the Seminole Tribe is able to win its lawsuit, this will only send a message to the responsible parties and help them recoup financial damages ⁠— it will not solve the problem of opioid addiction. The best way to prevent further harm to the community is to stop the flow of opioids and help people who are struggling with addiction get the treatment they need and deserve.

If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction, reach out to The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health to learn about treatment options. Recovery is possible, and there is hope.