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Pala Band of Mission Indians Files Suit Against Opioid Manufactures and Distributors

Pala CA— The Pala Band of Mission Indians has filed suit in federal court against an array of pharmaceutical companies and drug distributors seeking to hold the companies accountable for the devastating effects prescription opioids have had on the tribe.

“The opioid epidemic has had devastating impacts on our tribe,” said Pala Tribal Chairman Robert Smith.  “Big Pharma’s aggressive promotion of OxyContin and other prescription opiates have caused increasing incidences of addiction, disability and family dysfunction.”

The suit, which was filed on November 26, 2019, contends that the companies who manufacture, market, and distribute opioids carried out a scheme to make doctors and patients believe that prescription opioids were safe, non-addictive, and could be used without long-term effects. That effort, coupled with their failure to track orders and distribution of the drugs as required by law, shows the companies created an illicit market for highly addictive drugs that have ravaged tribal communities.

According to the State of California Department of Public Health, in 2017, the rate of opioid deaths for Native people was higher than any other group: 15.71 per 100,000—3 times the statewide rate.  The same holds true in San Diego County where the Pala Band is located, where the rate for Native Americans is 39.52 per 100,000. The overdose rate for Native Americans nationally is 8.4 per 100,000—higher than any other group.

The Pala Band has experienced direct effects from the opioid epidemic, including the health effects on its members and their families, increased instances of child welfare and foster care cases, homelessness, and crime. The tribe has undertaken various efforts to combat the epidemic, ranging from strategies to combat opioids falling into the hands of youth or those without prescriptions, and community education on opioid dangers and how to address them.

The Pala Band filed suit with the intent to join the on-going cases that have been consolidated in the federal court for the Northern District of Ohio. The case is a nationwide “multi-district litigation” which is being handled by Judge Dan A. Polster, who assigned three Special Masters to handle different aspects of the case.  The case number is 1:17-md-02804-DAP.

Hundreds of states, tribes, counties, and municipalities have sued opioid companies over the last year for the companies’ actions that minimized, dismissed, or concealed the risk of opioids, that shifted blame for addiction to patients—going as far to coin the term “pseudoaddiction” to describe patients who continued to seek opioids—and that used trainings, seminars, and literature to create a false picture of the dangers of their drugs.

The Pala Band is represented by Hobbs, Straus, Dean, & Walker LLP, by a team led by Ed Goodman and Geoff Strommer.