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Cherokee Nation settles with opioid manufacturers for historic $75 million claim

Allison Herrera / KOSU

The Cherokee Nation will receive $75 million from opioid manufacturers under a settlement. The agreement with McKesson, Amerisourcebergen and Cardinal Health marks one of the largest settlements in the tribal nation's history and will be paid out over a six-year period.

The case was filed in federal court in 2017 and alleged that opioid-related overdoses more than doubled within the Cherokee Nation from 2003-2014. Cherokee Nation health officials say more than 800 million milligrams of opioids were distributed in 14 counties in the reservation’s boundaries. That’s the equivalent of 42 pills for every resident in those counties, and officials say the oversupply and resulting addictions created a significant burden on the nation's healthcare system.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill said she was glad the case wasn't going to drag on in court with more costly litigation.

“This settlement will help reduce and prevent opioid addiction and its deadly consequences in the Cherokee Nation Reservation," said Hill in a statement to the press.

Meanwhile, the drug companies denied any wrongdoing. In a statement released to NPR, they said, "This settlement was negotiated in connection with ongoing negotiations toward a broad resolution of opioid-related claims brought by Native American tribes."


Hoskin Jr. said the deluge of opioids within the Cherokee Nation has created some long term behavioral and mental health issues among citizens. The demand for services from the tribe’s healthcare system to treat those issues has outpaced the resources they have.

"We have to make whole-some of those damages as best we can - money expended that we wouldn't have had to expend," said Hoskin Jr.

At the annual State of the Nation address, Hoskin Jr. announced a multi-million dollar investment in mental health care. Money from the settlement will add to that and create new resources for mental health and substance abuse and related issues including employment, education and housing.


Cherokee Nation was one of the first governments in the United States and the first tribal government to sue distributors and manufacturers for damages as a result of the opioid crisis.

The case was filed by former Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree and former Principal Chief Bill John Baker. Hoskin Jr. gave credit to them for filing what he called a complex and involved case.

"They really dared to stare down an industry,” said Hoskin Jr. “A tribe had not done (that) before."

Several other tribal nations have since filed similar suits, including the Chickasaw Nation and the Choctaw Nation.

The State of Oklahoma also settled lawsuits against several opioid manufacturers and won a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson.

Cherokee Nation is still seeking damages from some of the opioid distributors such as WalMart, CVS and Walgreens. If a settlement is not reached, they expect those cases to go to trial in Fall 2022.

Allison Herrera covered Indigenous Affairs for KOSU from April 2020 to November 2023.
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