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Fond du Lac Band sues over opioids

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa on Thursday joined a growing list of governmental bodies suing opioid distributors in response to a nationwide surge in addiction and overdose deaths.

The 47-page complaint, filed in State District Court in Carlton County, alleges that eight distributors engaged in an ongoing civil conspiracy to cause addiction for profit "in reckless disregard of the consequences to Native American people."

"Opioids are sapping the lifeforce from our community, leaving behind destruction and despair, and it's time we made our voices heard," Kevin DuPuis, band chairman, said in a statement. "Each time we prepare another young person for burial or are forced to send more children to foster care, it reminds us that we are paying with our lives and livelihoods for the actions of those who value profits over human lives."

Across the U.S., an average of 115 people die from opioid overdoses every day, according to Centers for Disease Control statistics. In Minnesota, St. Louis and Carlton counties have in recent years ranked near the top in per capita overdose rates across the state.

While Native Americans make up only 1.5 percent of the state population, the Minnesota Department of Health reports they are six times more likely to die of a drug overdose compared to white residents. Despite those statistics, DuPuis said tribes are often excluded from major opioid-response initiatives by state, county and municipal governments.

"Lacking comparable criminal prosecutorial and investigative resources, the band's only recourse is civil action," a news release noted.

Civil suits have already been brought against distributors by at least three tribes in Wisconsin, including the nearby Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

St. Louis County was among a coalition of Minnesota counties to announce litigation against opioid manufacturers and distributors in November. Numerous states also have filed suit, including Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson last month.