Community , Health , Legal

Osage Nation joins fight against opioid crisis

Add the Osage Nation to the list of governments attempting to address the opioid crisis through litigation.

According to court records, the tribe has filed a civil lawsuit in Osage County District Court against more than 20 drug manufacturers, as well as Wal-Mart and Walgreens, for facilitating access to OxyContin, Dilaudid, Actiq and other opioids while downplaying their risks.

The lawsuit does not list a specific dollar amount sought but does request compensation for costs associated with treating opioid addiction, including counseling, medical care, drug court maintenance, use of law enforcement resources and care for children whose parents are either incapacitated or disabled due to opioids. 

According to county-level data published in 2017 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Osage County was one of 32 Oklahoma counties to see a decrease in opioid prescription rates between 2012 and 2015.  The average amount of painkillers prescribed in Osage County per person was less than half of the per capita rates in three neighboring counties: Tulsa, Washington and Pawnee.

Nationally, despite dropping from its peak levels in 2010, doctors prescribed 640 morphine milligram equivalents per person in 2015, or the equivalent of roughly 5 milligrams of hydrocodone every four hours for three weeks.

With Oklahoma ranking among the top 10 nationally in the number of prescription drug overdose deaths at the time, the legislature passed a measure in 2015 requiring all physicians to check the state’s prescription database before writing a scrip for schedule II, III, IV, and V controlled substances, which includes oxycodone and hydrocodone.

State law requires similar checks to be performed periodically after prescribing the medication if it is to be used for chronic pain management for more than 180 days.

Even with that preventative measure, Oklahoma still had an opioid-related fatality rate of 10.2 per every 100,000 residents in 2017 alone.

Indian Health Services also requires providers working at all of its federally operated facilities, such as the Pawnee Indian Health Center, to check state prescription drug monitoring program databases prior to prescribing and dispensing opioids for pain treatment longer than seven days and periodically throughout chronic pain treatment for 90 days or more.

The Osages’ lawsuit was filed prior to an August ruling by a Cleveland County judge that Johnson & Johnson, as well as its subsidiary, Janssen, have to pay the state of Oklahoma $572 million for its role for in the opioid crisis. Both are named defendants in the tribe’s lawsuit.

The pharmaceutical companies have until Oct. 7 to respond to the tribe’s petition.