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SACATON — The Gila River Indian Community has joined other Arizona tribes in a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies alleging damages inflicted by their products to members of the community.

The filing in the ongoing multidistrict federal court litigation was in the Northern District of Ohio.

Gila River joins with Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the San Carlos Apache Tribe and dozens of other tribes across the nation.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4,000 people died of drug overdose between 2014 and 2016, with the majority of deaths due to prescription and illicit opioids.

Between 2017 and 2019, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported around 3,000 opioid-related deaths, more than 21,000 suspected overdoses and 1,400 children born with opioid-related complications.

The drug-related death rate for Native Americans is nearly twice the rate of the general U.S. population, according to a CDC report. The agency also has indicated that one out of every 10 American Indian children 12 and older have used prescription opioids for non-medical reasons.

“This is a significant step for the community,” said GRIC Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis. “The opioid crisis has profoundly affected the community, and we look forward to holding those responsible accountable for their actions.”

The lawsuit makes a number of allegations including negligence, violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organizations Act, nuisance, unjust enrichment, violations of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act and civil conspiracy.

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