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Swinomish tribe files lawsuit against drug companies

This Aug. 15, 2017 photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York. (Patrick Sison / Associated Press)
This Aug. 15, 2017 photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York. (Patrick Sison / Associated Press)
By Kera Wanielista Skagit Valley Herald

SWINOMISH INDIAN TRIBAL COMMUNITY — The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community has joined the ranks of governmental organizations filing lawsuits against large pharmaceutical companies.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, claims the companies participated in false and deceptive marketing strategies that “fueled the opioid epidemic and resulted in deaths and devastation to Swinomish families,” according to a news release sent Tuesday.

Among the plaintiffs listed are pharmaceutical companies Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a division of Johnson & Johnson.

The opioid epidemic, the lawsuit claims, has had a dramatic impact not only in Skagit County — which has a higher overdose death rate than that of the the state — but specifically on the tribe itself.

“The Swinomish tribe is currently facing a public health crisis that threatens to undermine the safety and wellbeing of the entire tribal community,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit states that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of Native Americans and Alaska Natives dying of opioid overdoses increased four-fold between 1999 and 2013.

By 2014, the CDC reported, Native Americans had the highest death rate from opioid overdoses out of any ethnic group in the country, according to the lawsuit.

“We have been holding funerals while these companies reap record profits,” Swinomish Tribal Chairman Brian Cladoosby said in the news release. “It’s time they are held accountable for the destruction they’ve caused in the Swinomish community.”

Speaking to the Skagit Valley Herald on Tuesday, Cladoosby said the last three funerals of tribal members were all for members under the age of 50 who had died of opioid-related overdoses.

“It’s very important for the companies to understand we feel they created a plague in the United States, and we don’t feel they’re doing enough to address it,” Cladoosby said.

Additionally, the lawsuit states the opioid epidemic — perpetuated by the pharmaceutical companies — affects the tribe culturally and economically.

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