Yurok Tribe Files Federal RICO Case Against Pharmaceutical Businesses

Hydrocodone Opioids

Opioid prescription By Rotellam1 via Wikimedia Commons

Press release from the Yurok Tribe:

Yurok Tribe files federal RICO case against titans of pharmaceutical industry

Court case aims to stem opioid epidemic on rural reservation, the United States


The Yurok Tribe filed in federal court a RICO case against the pharmaceutical giants that are alleged to be responsible for the surging opioid epidemic in the United States and on the Yurok Reservation.

“Without these pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers, the widespread abuse of prescription pain pills on tribal lands and across the entire US would never have reached the terrifying level it is at today,” said Amy Cordalis, the Yurok Tribe’s General Counsel and Yurok Tribal member. “The only difference between these companies and drug cartels is the fact that legal purveyors of prescription opioids have protection from law enforcement and seemingly unlimited funds to market and distribute to the masses their highly addictive drugs. There is not a single Yurok family that has not either directly or indirectly experienced the horrors of opiate addiction.”

The complaint, filed on behalf of the Tribe by Zwerling, Schachter & Zwerling, LLP and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that 20 defendants violated the 1970 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The defendants, ranging from Purdue Pharma to Johnson & Johnson, include both manufacturers and distributors of opiate-based drugs. The complaint alleges that defendants concealed important facts about the dangers of opioids and the costs to communities, such as that of the Yurok Tribe.  Also contained in the complaint are charges of false advertising, public nuisance and participating in unlawful, unfair, and/or fraudulent business practices. The Tribe decided to pursue the case after Yurok Chief Justice Abby Abinanti, a longtime magistrate and Yurok Tribal member, first identified opiate addiction as a significant health and safety issue on the reservation and she has largely spearheaded this effort to hold the defendants accountable.

The Yurok Reservation, located in one of only a handful of places where the US opioid crisis initially took root, occupies land in rural Northern California’s Humboldt and Del Norte Counties. Humboldt County, one of the first counties in the entire nation to see lawfully produced prescription painkillers diverted for clandestine purposes, has had crisis-level overdose rates for over a decade. Much of this so-called medicine has made it to the reservation, which is evidenced by the number of inquiries the Tribe receives from those looking for opioid addiction treatment.

“For too long, the Yurok Tribe has been forced to contend with the deadly aftermath of the proliferation of opioids in society,” according to the complaint. “Opioid manufacturing and distributing companies systematically and repeatedly disregarded the health and safety of the public, including the Yurok Tribe.”

In the United States, 91 people die every day from opioid overdose and in 2016 opiates killed 42,000 US citizens, including disproportionately high numbers of Native Americans, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In March 2, 2018, the CDCP announced the results of a yearlong study, which showed that commonly prescribed opioids produced less pain relief than over-the-counter, non-opioid drugs in patients suffering from serious back aches as well as hip or knee arthritis

This filing represents the first step toward a jury trial in federal court, where the corrupt actions of the accused will be presented for the world to see.

“It is clear that we as a nation have been sold a bill of goods as it relates to opiate painkillers. These drugs have caused so much unnecessary heartache as well as the untimely deaths of many Native American and non-Indian people. The companies that produce, market and distribute them need to be held accountable,” concluded Cordalis.

The Yurok Tribe is the largest federally recognized Indian tribe in California and has a reservation that straddles the Lower Klamath River, extending for one mile on each side of the river, from its entry into the Pacific Ocean to approximately 45 miles upriver to the confluence with the Trinity River. The Tribe’s major initiatives include: natural resources management, fisheries protection, watershed restoration, dam removal, condor reintroduction, cultural revitalization, language preservation and land acquisition.



  • This is brilliant. Maybe healthcare districts and -I know I’m out on a limb – counties can join in.

  • Sometimes I am in awe of the local tribes willingness to skip the rationalizations and go for the practical. While I believe in personal responsibility, it is self defeating to ignore the overwhelming presence of drugs catching the young and distressed.

    Neither restricting nor sermonizing all by themselves will be effective but maybe if the two were together responsibly some positive change can happen.

  • RIGHT ON !!!

  • Yes.

  • Muddy Black Dodge

    This is great! Even if they don’t win their case, they will at least get the message out there to the pharmaceutical companies and the pill pushing Doctor’s. They are sick of this epidemic.

  • Thank yo so much for doing what the elected representatives in Washington DC seem unable to do. Is there any outreach connected to this ? Can non-members participate in any way ?

  • Its odd how all the cannabis Haters, always turn a blind eye to big pharma and their dope slingin ways.Politicians who allowed this should be held accountable as well .

    • How does being in favor of a different kind of drug stop ‘big pharma’ ? It’s not like pot is alternative to opiates. If it were Humboldt Co would be opiate free. What pot lovers fail to notice is that all drugs, used outside of very strict needs, are bad.

      Trying to blame “Big Pharma” when discussing pot is just trying divert blame in the manner of a little kid telling his mother that his brother started it. You are confusing not being diverted with not understanding.

      • CBD is for me, the veterans Admin had me taking 8 10 mg percs a day for 8 years along with other drugs, it wad causing other health problems as well, a friend with a medicial collective kept offering me CBD but i was to stuburn to try, Then one day i was with them and in so much pain . I had left my bottles of pills at the house hours away, so i broke down willing to try anything to help dral with the pain. That was 4 years or so ago and i have only needed maybe 50 percs in 4 years compared to 8 a day. So yes canibis is a great alternitive for cronic pain management. I am happiet healthier and have alot better quality of life , thanks to my friend and CBD oil which i take orally 2 tablespoons daily.

      • Lost Croat Outburst

        It helps if the “different kind of drug” really IS a different kind of drug. Read that again, slowly. See, it’s obvious that nicotine and alcohol and cannabinoids are “different kinds of drugs.” If one kind of drug doesn’t cure your cancer, doctors will try a “different kind of drug.” As Casey Stengel said, “you can look it up” if you have spent your life on a desert island.

        Good things to look for in drugs are: as few side effects as possible, effective treatment of presented symptoms, low cost. Cannabis meets these requirements better every day; you can grow your own, if you avoid inhaling smoke, long-term effects on the human body are minimal and As an analgesic drug marijuana components are far, far less harmful and addictive than opioids or opiates. You can look up the increasing number of illnesses like epilepsy that are treatable with cannabis. Doesn’t it make absolute perfect sense to use a different kind of SAFER drug?!?

        What remains unanswered is the bizarre effect cannabis has on people who hate it and don’t use it but seem to lose all capacity for rational thought just thinking about it.

        • So why is Humboldt Co, awash in pot, also awash in opoids? If it was really a replacement for other drugs, why would there be so many other drugs around. Could it be that people using drugs recreationally are not going to restrict themselves to pot? Could it be that people who are so in love with pot that they can’t think clearly? Really, literally that pot prevents rational thought? Because if pot were only used for measured clinical use, there would be no issue with it.

          • I haven’t seen studies about places with large amounts of illegal mj use and its corralative opioid use, but I have seen studies that show opioid Rx use go down in areas that get mj legalization. My answer to your question would be…if we tell kids something virtually harmless is deadly and they try it and figure out that the information was inaccurate, they might reason most of the other illegal items are virtually harmless as well. By the time they learn the error, a big problem has developed.

            Before anyone tells me about the problems they’ve seen with mj, please let me tell you about my aunt’s out of control diabetes from sugar, my friend’s cluster headaches from caffeine, and my nation’s race toward global environmental collapse from it’s addiction to carbon based fuels…. Everything has a need to be limited being my point

  • I’m in support of this – 100%

  • Maybe Humboldt County and other local tribes should join in on this action. Thank you Amy Cordalis and the Yurok Tribe for being leaders in a battle of David and Goliath proportions. Good luck!

  • I been down that road and I really dont know how I lived threw it,it was 8 days of wanting to die,throwing up shitting leg cramps,skin craulys,hell.Ive been totally clean now about 5 years now and dam I still remember it like it was yesturday,and that keeps me clean cause I dont ever want to go threw that again ever.giveing birth was funner! My son is Yurok. You go Yurok! You make me proud

  • All activists should support the Yurok in this movement! It’s as worthy as all the issues that have been brought out in Humboldt in the last 4 decades!! Activists have a lot of experience that they need to offer to the deserving Yurok Tribe. Good for them to stand up in the world against this scourge. Let’s support them and bring this issue more deeply and more solution-oriented into the public conversation. The pharmaceutical industry needs to turn major research toward much more natural based healing products that don’t have so many horrible side effects. It’s 2018!! Even Yoga is proven to be an effective pain reliever! Awaken yourself& others to true healing. This should become The Next Big Thing?

  • Trillium Hummingbird

    Humans demand these drugs. Native Americans are severely affected by alcohol, methamphetamine, heroin, and prescription drugs.

    Drug companies manufacture the pills but doctors write the prescriptions.

    The Yuroks sure love to sue people who are perceived to have affected them, but the person using the substance is responsible for the abuse. No one forced you to use those substances…

    Native Americans have fantastic amounts of resources available, including education and rehab.

    Use your time on earth wisely! Many will desire to profit from you and your consumption of products, from Honda to Grey Goose!

  • fuckwalterwhite.com

    “…one of only a handful of places where the US opioid crisis initially took root..”

    “Humboldt County, one of the first counties in the entire nation to see lawfully produced prescription painkillers diverted for clandestine purposes, has had crisis-level overdose rates for over a decade.”

  • fuckwalterwhite.com

    Go get em!
    Hopefully others will join the fight.

  • I’m behind this all the way, but the big issue is that we are at war because of the people we are at war with are growing the plants that make the opioids and our government is funding it. If this could go viral, and get international attention, maybe we have a chance .

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