ST. PAUL -- Four tribes in Minnesota sued 24 opioid manufacturers and distributors on Thursday, Aug. 16, accusing them of devastating public health effects on their communities.

The four tribes are Prairie Island Indian Community, Lower Sioux Indian Community, the Upper Sioux Indian Community, and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, all in southern Minnesota.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

They join 11 other tribes in lawsuits being filed this year by the national Robins Kaplan LLP law firm. Representing the tribes will be two high-profile attorneys  -- former U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Tim Purdon and former U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Brendan Johnson.

The lawsuits accuse the drug companies of marketing prescription opioids in a manner that fraudulently concealed and minimized their addiction risk and failing to comply with federal prescription drug laws intended to prevent the diversion of prescription opioids and prevent their abuse.

They tribe seek relief for the defendants’ alleged violation of federal laws, deceptive trade practices and fraudulent and negligent conduct.

The lawsuit comes as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week that nearly 72,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses in 2017. Those deaths were driven by an uptick in fatal fentanyl overdoses.

Minnesota has seen a similar uptick, with opioid-related deaths rising from 395 in 2016 to 401 in 2017, according to preliminary data from the state Department of Health. Synthetic opioid deaths rose 71 percent over that time with fentanyl playing a role in almost all the fatalities.