MCN leads the charge for tribes against opioid abuse
TULSA, Oklahoma —Lloyd B. Miller was introduced as one of the foremost experts on tribal self-governance when he spoke at the MCN Pain Management and Opioid Addiction conference March 27 about opioid litigation that is ongoing in the state and federal courts.
He spoke to the group professionals about the court case joined by the MCN being one of the test cases chosen by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster of Cleveland in what has been called the largest and most complex civil litigation in U.S. history by the presiding judge.
The suit was filed last year along with thousands of other plaintiffs in what
Miller explained the history of how the opioid crisis began to spiral out of control. He said it was the DEA who was tasked with collecting data on the drug movement from the time they left the manufacturers until they arrived in the pharmacies and even to the point when they are distributed to the patient.
“The DEA found that companies like the drug manufacturers and major chain pharmacies have failed in their duty to report suspicious orders,” Miller said. “The volume of pills being requested by the pharmacies is so large from the size of the community that it raises red flags.”
He said those suspect amounts were supposed to be reported to the DEA.
“The companies wouldn’t,” Miller said. “Why? Because they make money on every pill.”
Miller gave examples of a community with a population of fewer than a thousand people, but millions of pills were going in.
“Of course it was a known pharmacy,” Miller said. “It was a magnet.”
According to Miller, it was that failure that allowed the problem to escalate. For Native American Communities, the escalation spirals out of control Miller said.
“The overdoses in Indian Country are at a higher rate than any other group of American citizens,” Miller said. “In some states, it’s as high as three times the state average, in Minnesota six times.”
Miller said the rates are higher on the reservation than off-reservation.
“And the rates are thought to be severely undercounted because Native Americans are not always identified on death certificates,” Miller said. “It’s an enormous undercount.”
According to Miller the tribes lawsuits filed in 2014 comes on the heels of all that.
“It didn’t start there, this is just the latest chapter,” Miller said.
He said there were 70 cases in 2016 filed in courts all around the U.S.
“Eventually the federal court system combined all the cases into that first case that was filed in Ohio in front of Judge Polster,” Miller said. “It’s not 70 cases anymore, and it’s more like 1500.”
According to Miller, without organization, the cases would be in chaos.
“So the judge placed a hold on all the cases except just a few,” Miller said. “Those test cases are going forward.”
Miller said that as the udge choose test cases, one of those became the MCN Vs. Purdue et. al case. Today there are more than 100 cases that have been filed by tribes.
Now the lawsuit is organized into a city and county, state, and now finally a tribal track.
“It’s about 60 percent of the tribes, but more like 80 to 90 percent of the tribal people because it’s the big tribes,” Miller said. “So tribes are present and there is a tribal track in the case.
Miller said that rather than send the case to trial immediately the judge decided to test the tribes legal standing in the lawsuit. Some of the basis the claims are filed on include conspiracy, public nuisance, parents patri. The defendants comprised of big pharmaceutical companies like Purdue, Mckesson, and pharmacy chains like Walgreens and Walmart were given first shot.
“They filed hundreds of pages of motions to dismiss all the claims,” Miller said. “The tribes opposed those motions, filing hundreds of pages in response.”
According to Miller, Judge Polster began accepting amicus briefs. A brief was submitted on behalf of 448 federally recognized tribes.
“It’s the largest brief of it’s kind ever filed in any litigation in history involving Indian tribes,” Miller said. “It was a big team effort to graft the brief.”
The briefs were filed in October and are now awaiting a decision. Once a decision is made if the MCN lawsuit holds up it then goes to depositions.
“If our claim survives in the main, then litigations will really ramp up,” Miller said. “We will be looking at depositions and trial date, at least that is our expectations.”
“The pharmaceutical companies have been lying about opioid for a long time,” Miller said. “They would tell people it was something people could take everyday like an aspirin to increase sales.”
Miller’s address at the opioid conference came just 36 hours after a settlement was achieved in the states opioid litigation. In that case Purdue was the only defendant that had settled. It will be in trial May 28.