Federal RICO action that is largest tribal complaint in history seeks justice from opiate drug manufacturers and distributors for unprecedented community and medical costs and American Indian and Alaska Native opioid deaths in Alaska
On behalf of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, Chugachmiut, the Copper River Native Association, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, and Southcentral Foundation, today the law firms of Sonosky Chambers Sachse Miller & Monkman, LLP, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, and Zwerling, Schachter & Zwerling, LLP filed a RICO racketeering lawsuit in federal district court in Anchorage against Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Teva, Allergan, Watson Pharmaceuticals, Actavis, Insys, Mallinckrodt, McKesson, Health Mart Systems, AmerisourceBergen, Walgreen Co., the Kroger Co., Albertson’s, CVS and related entities responsible for the explosive opioid epidemic across the United States and in the impacted Alaska Native communities.
“We attend funerals for our people while these companies tally unprecedented profits,” said Victor Joseph, Chief and President of the Tanana Chiefs Conference. “These companies must be held to account for the devastation they have brought to our Alaska Native communities through their deceptive and unethical practices.”
The first tribal lawsuit over the opioid crisis was filed in April 2017 by the Cherokee Nation. Today, over 60 Native American tribal governments have filed suit, and the tribal cases have joined another 1,100 cases that are now pending in Ohio federal court against the opioid industry. In addition, some 30 States have filed suit, including the State of Alaska.
The complaint in this newest case alleges these companies engaged in a vast scheme of false and deceptive marketing relating to prescription opioid drugs – a campaign to drastically expand the market for such drugs and their own market share – by convincing patients, hospitals, and physicians that opioids were safe for long-term use despite significant contrary evidence showing the drugs are both highly addictive and ineffective in treating chronic pain. The complaint further alleges these companies engaged in a widespread supply chain scheme that reaped enormous financial rewards by refusing to monitor and restrict the improper distribution of these lethal and addictive drugs.
The opioid epidemic has taken a heavy toll in Alaska, so much so that Alaska Governor Walker recently declared a public health crisis and issued a Declaration of Disaster Emergency. As Governor Bill Walker noted in the Declaration, in 2012 Alaska’s prescription opioid overdose death rate was more than double the national death rate.
The plaintiffs are five intertribal organizations which together serve over 120 federally recognized tribal governments situated across a largely roadless area of Alaska that is more than one and one half times the size of Texas.
Native Americans, including Plaintiffs’ members and patients, have been significantly impacted by this epidemic. American Indians and Alaska Natives experience the highest per capita opioid death rate in America and a drug overdose death rate nearly twice the rate of the general U.S. population. According to the U.S. Indian Health Service’s Chief Medical Officer, “American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest drug overdose death rates in 2015 and the largest percentage increase in the number of deaths over time from 1999-2015 compared to other racial and ethnic groups.” Over this same time frame, the drug-related death rate among American Indians and Alaska Natives increased more than 500 percent.
The complaint alleges that the myriad defendants worked to conceal facts and disseminate a vast range of falsehoods relating to opioid drugs through multiple channels, including direct marketing, paying key opinion leaders to deceptively promote opioid use, through continuing medical education programs, through “branded” advertising to doctors and consumers and “unbranded” advertising to promote opioid use for chronic pain without FDA review, and by funding, editing, and distributing publications that supported these and other misrepresentations. In doing so, the complaint alleges the defendants deliberately disregarded their duties to maintain effective controls and to identify, report, and take steps to halt suspicious orders. The complaint asserts that their conspiracy to engage in this wrongful conduct enabled them to benefit both independently and jointly in their schemes relating to the promotion, sale, and distribution of opioid drugs.
The complaint asserts claims under the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), as well as claims for fraud, public nuisance, unjust enrichment, negligence, unfair competition under the Alaska Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act, product liability, and civil conspiracy. It seeks damages that include the tribal organizations’ healthcare and medical care costs, additional therapeutic costs, drug purchase costs, costs of training, preparing, and providing first responders, mental health services, as well as losses caused by the diversion of limited health care funds to address the opioid epidemic. The complaint also seeks treble damages, equitable relief and injunctive relief, including an order enjoining any further violations of RICO, enjoining the future improper marketing of opioids, enjoining other wrongful conduct, and forfeiting the defendants’ ill-gotten profits.
About Sonosky Chambers Sachse Miller & Monkman, LLP
Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson & Perry, LLP represents Native American tribes and tribal organizations across the United States in trial and appellate litigation. The firm’s attorneys have handled some of the most important Indian law cases to come before the Supreme Court, including recent victories which led to the recovery of nearly $2 billion against the United States on behalf of tribal governments and governmental health and social service providers. The firm represents two dozen Tribes and intertribal organizations in connection with the National Opioid Litigation, including the Navajo Nation and the bellwether tribal plaintiff the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and it also brought the first tribal opioid case against the pharmaceutical industry (McKesson v Hembree). The firm’s partners sit on the six-member Plaintiff’s Tribal Committee in the Opioid Litigation.
About Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP is an 87-attorney law firm with offices in San Francisco, New York, and Nashville. Lieff Cabraser has filed opioid-related cases on behalf of counties and cities within California, Florida, Tennessee, and Washington, and also serves on the Court-appointed Plaintiffs’ Executive and Settlement Committees and the Tribal Committee in the federal Opioids multidistrict litigation. Lieff Cabraser represents tribes, cities and counties, union plans, and others who have suffered devastating economic losses in battling an Opioid crisis of the defendants’ making. The firm has recovered substantial economic losses for government entities, businesses and individuals in cases including the Tobacco litigation, the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill litigations, and the Neurontin RICO litigation.
About Zwerling, Schachter & Zwerling, LLP
Zwerling, Schachter & Zwerling, LLP was formed on January 1, 1985. Courts have selected Zwerling, Schachter many times as lead counsel in antitrust, RICO, securities, and consumer class actions in state and federal courts. The firm also represents tribes and governmental entities in actions seeking to redress corporate misconduct. The firm is counsel for a number of Tribes and Native Villages on the West Coast and Alaska in the National Opioid Litigation, including the Native Villages of Port Heiden, Akiak, and Afognak, the Asa’carsarmiut Tribe of Mountain Village, the Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes in Northern California, and the Swinomish Tribe in Washington.
Lloyd B. Miller
Sonosky Chambers Sachse Miller & Monkman, LLP
Elizabeth J. Cabraser
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
Zwerling, Schachter & Zwerling, LLP