Native American Tribes Want Own Voice in Purdue Bankruptcy

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(Bloomberg) -- A group of Native American tribes is asking for its own voice in the bankruptcy of Purdue Pharma LP, saying that the opioid crisis has disproportionately ravaged its communities, according to court filings.

The group has asked Judge Robert Drain to appoint an official committee to represent its interests as Purdue, the maker of the painkiller Oxycontin, seeks to settle claims for its alleged role in the opioid crisis through Chapter 11.

An official committee of creditors already exists to fight for anyone with an unsecured claim against Purdue, such as those suing the company for opioid damages. That group doesn’t represent tribal interests, attorneys argued in the filing, in part because the U.S. Trustee placed no Native Americans on the committee.

“By every measure the opioid crisis has more gravely impacted Native Americans on a proportionate basis than any other segment of American society,” Sander Esserman, an attorney at Stutzman, Bromberg Esserman & Plifka PC, wrote in the motion. “If the opioid crisis is to be remedied and abated in Indian Country, it will be through empowering tribes and their various constituencies to control and direct resources as they deem appropriate.”

In 2015, the equivalent of more than 97 million opioid pills were distributed in 14 Oklahoma counties that make up part of the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction, Esserman writes, citing the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. That works out to 107 pills per adult in those counties. From 1995 to 2015, Native American overdose death increased by more than 500%, the biggest jump among racial and ethnic groups, the filing said, citing information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An officially appointed committee has its expenses paid by the bankrupt company. That’s a major benefit as bills for top bankruptcy attorneys can exceed $1,500 an hour.

The official creditor committee has said repeatedly it will represent the interests of all unsecured creditors, not just those directly sitting on the committee.

A representative for Purdue declined to comment.

The case is Purdue Pharma LP, 19-23649, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York (White Plains)

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