Indigenous tribes in the Cape and Islands have yet to understand how the $590 million settlement with an opioid manufacturer and three distributors will directly affect them.
Native American tribes have reached an agreement with Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson over the respective companies’ role in the opioid epidemic. The filing, in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, was released on Tuesday.
The two federally recognized tribes on the Cape and the Islands are the Mashpee Wampanoag and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah.
Brian Weeden, president of the Mashpee Wampanoag, said the tribe will consider participating in the settlements at its next tribal council meeting on Wednesday.
Weeden said Indigenous peoples have some of the highest rates of substance abuse of any ethnic group. The abuses are rooted in the historic trauma of Indigenous peoples, he said.
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Weeden also mentioned that many tribal children are placed in foster care because their parents died of drug addiction.
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More than 400 tribes and inter-tribal organizations have filed opioid complaints. Any federally-recognized tribe can participate in the settlements, but the deal won’t be done until 95% of the tribes that sued the companies agree to the settlement, according to an attorney whose firm represents 28 tribes.
The agreement stipulates that Johnson & Johnson would pay $150 million over two years, while the three drug distributors would collectively pay $440 million over seven years.
Cheryl Andrew-Maltais, president of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah, said the tribe has been embroiled in opioid litigation from the very beginning.
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She said the tribe was happy to hear about the settlement, but doesn’t think it’s enough to explain the harm caused by opioids.
By the time companies are done distributing and allocating resources, it won’t have the desired effect, she said.
She also said the dollar amount of the settlement is not enough to cover the costs of drug treatment, as well as the social and emotional costs of families and communities affected by the outbreak.
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The settlement money can be divided by 574 federally recognized tribes, with each tribe receiving only a share of the money. However, Andrew-Maltais is optimistic about the message the settlement can send.
“We hope this will be a wake-up call, not just for Congress, but for everyone to be aware of what is prescribed,” she said.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story
Contact Asad Jung at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @asadjungcct