The Invisible Opioid Epidemic: How Pharmaceutical Companies Profit from Native American Lives

The Invisible Opioid Epidemic: How Pharmaceutical Companies Profit from Native American Lives


>>Aidan Wallace:
Sorry about that, guys. Thank you for being here. My name is Aidan Wallace I want
to thank Professor Johnson for helping me with my topic. I also researched
the opioid epidemic, specifically, how pharmaceutical
companies contribute to and profit from this epidemic in
Native American communities. The high rates of opioid use and
overdose in these communities has been in large part due to a
lack of political and economic power and invisibility in the
national discussion on the opioid epidemic. The national discussion
surrounding the epidemic is largely framed as an issue
for upper and middle class white Americans. However, the opioid epidemic
disproportionately impacts Native American communities. As you can see here
news reports often, you know, focus in on the
epidemic in white communities and underreport the critical
situation Native Americans face. And in terms of
Native American voice, Native Americans have little
political and economic voice for a number of reasons. Their poverty rates are
roughly 80% higher than the general population. They struggle with high
unemployment rates and continue to face racial discrimination in
the labor market and they have you know restricted
property rights, weak legal systems and
overwhelmed tribal health departments all of which gives
them little economic power and when you lack economic
power you lack political power. And within these communities
the epidemic is affecting men, women and children. One in 10 Native Americans youth
12 or older use opioid pain medications for
non-medical reasons. 1 in 10 pregnant Native American
women have some sort of opioid dependency which is resulting
in a lot of infants in tribal nations to have neo-natal
abstinence syndrome which means that upon birth these
infants are going through opioid withdrawals. And in terms of overdose
– death overdose rates, between 1999 and 2015 there was
a 500% present increase in the number of overdoses in Native
American communities and they have the highest death rate
compared to any other racial demographic including
white – the white population. And these statistics can be
attributed to pharmaceutical company’s roles in
these communities. Pharmaceutical companies
consciously targeted populations through deliberate, inflated
and distribution dispensing practices and knowingly ignoring
high opioid orders from doctors and pharmaceutical companies
and we’ll go into that in a little bit. So, in response to the
legal activities of these pharmaceutical companies the
Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma recently began the process of
suing several pharmaceutical companies including
Walmart, CVS, Walgreens and others and these companies
control about 85% of prescription drug distribution
in the Cherokee Nation. And the lawsuit alleges that
these companies broke several distribution dispensing
laws such as those under the Controlled Substance Act
which is a law that requires pharmaceutical companies and
drug manufactures to notify federal officials like the drug
enforcement administration, the DEA of suspiciously
high opioid or prescription drug orders. And the lawsuit also sights
a violation of the Racketeer Influencing Corrupt
Organizations Act or the RICO Act which is a federal law
that enforces criminal penalties involving organized criminal
enterprise meaning that these companies actively
conspire to break the law to increase profits. And within the Sioux Nation,
three tribes within the Sioux Nation of South Dakota
are suing 24 companies with a similar lawsuit. They also allege pharmaceutical
companies violated the RICO Act because these pharmaceutical
companies engaged in lobbying efforts against the DEA. So, the DEA would investigate
their you know companies and investigate their
opioid orders less. And going back to the
Controlled Substance Act, part of the act is to establish
opioid quotas so that you know you don’t oversupply populations
with prescription drugs and these companies bypass those
quotas and broke the law to increase profits. And so, these illegal activities
have like devastated Native American communities and
actually the Cherokee Nation lawsuit was denied adjudication
by a federal judge and they’re now fighting at the state level. But historically the efforts of
poor communities to seek justice for the devastations caused by
corporations has been met with little success and we know this
because lawyers – corporations have endless lawyers and endless
financial reserves to combat these lawsuits. And I thought it would be
appropriate to give actual voice to the Native American community
so this was chief – Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John
Baker commenting on the Cherokee Nation lawsuit. He said “Tribal nations
have survived disease, removal from our homelands,
termination and other adversities and
still we prospered. However, I fear the opioid
epidemic is emerging as the next great challenge
for our modern era.” So, in short, wealth and power
seem to rule the healthcare system and the poorest
demographics have less power and therefore suffer
disproportionately and the lack of power in Native American
communities bolstered by their invisibility in the national
discussion has allowed pharmaceutical companies to
pursue profit regardless of the consequences that are just
destroying Native American communities, communities
already suffering from a history of dispossession,
racism and poverty. Thank you. [applause] Any questions?>>Brian: What was the reason
given for the nine federal states to go forward?>>Aidan: I do not know
actually. I don’t know. I’m sure they gave a reason, I
don’t know the validity of that reason. Yeah, I don’t know.
Any other questions? Thank you. [applause]

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