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Native American Tribes Fighting to Be Heard in Opiate Litigation

Native America tribes across the United States have struggled with drug addiction problems for years, and now they’re pursuing legal action to recoup costs for programs funded by the tribes to combat the epidemic sweeping across their communities.

Domina Law is currently representing the four Native American tribes in Nebraska in their lawsuits against the groups responsible for creating and perpetuating the opioid epidemic, which includes pharmaceutical companies like Walgreens, Purdue Pharma Inc., McKesson Corp., CVS, and more. David Domina recently asserted that because the lawsuits filed by these tribes are different from lawsuits filed on behalf of states, cities, and hospitals, and that Native American Tribes should also have their own separate track in this process.

"History, culture, predominant religious practices, significant health practices, abbreviated longevity, lower average user age, elevated usage levels, and historical problems with addictions, all make problems of tribal governments unique," Domina wrote in a brief filed Monday.

The current groupings have placed the Native American tribes in a group with the state of Alabama. They have until August 17 to submit a different grouping plan to the court to be placed in what is known as a “litigation track”, which Domina hopes will include a separate one for the tribes. He hopes that creating this specific group will allow them to focus on the issues that uniquely affect them. A key area that Domina said needs to be addressed is the fact that not only are there cultural and medical differences, most of his clients’ doctors are provided by the Indian Health Service.

The federal government has already admitted that while the number of cases is comparatively smaller, Native Americans have been disproportionally affected by the opioid epidemic. According to Indian Health Service Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Toedt, deaths increased by more than 500 percent between 1999 and 2015, the largest spike among any ethnic group. However, that figure only accounts for reported deaths, so the true number may be even higher.

One of the things fueling this concern of being overlooked stems from the fact that Native American tribes were not included in the Big Tobacco litigation of the late 1990’s. Domina Law is committed to ensuring this does not happen again.

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