By Barry Ellsworth
TRENTON, Canada (AA) – A Canadian province announced Wednesday it will sue more than 40 opioid drug manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors to recoup health care costs incurred in the overdose deaths of thousands of people.
The British Columbia (B.C.) legal action is ground-breaking, marking the first time a government in Canada has taken such steps.
In 2017 alone, 1,450 people in the province died from opioid overdoses as Canada struggles with an opioid crisis.
In making the announcement at a press conference Wednesday, B.C. Attorney General David Eby mentioned the “terrible toll” opioids have taken on provincial residents and their families, and blamed drug companies for their “negligence and corruption.”
How much the province is seeking from the lawsuit was not made public. But Eby said it was seeking to recover costs incurred by the public health system for addiction treatments and hospitalizations.
Previously, lawsuits were left to victims and families to pursue. A class-action lawsuit previously against Purdue Pharma of Canada resulted in a proposed CAN$20 million settlement. Of that, $2 million was allotted for Canada’s provinces and territories.
But not all claimants were onboard, with some governments in favor of the settlement but others claiming the amount was not large enough, so the lawsuit remains in limbo.
Canadians consume copious amounts of prescription drugs, second only to Americans in the world. Almost 4,000 Canadians died from overdoses in 2017, and the leading drug was the infamous pain-relief drug OxyContin, produced by Purdue.
The drug was approved in 1996 by Health Canada to be used to lessen the effects of moderate to severe pain. Prior, it was mainly used for relief for those with terminal cancer.
The drug proved to be highly addictive and several years ago, due to break-ins, robberies, and fraudulent prescriptions, some drug stores in Canada took to placing signs in the pharmacy saying there was no OxyContin on the premises. It had to be ordered in for those with prescriptions.
Purdue marketed the drug as a safe alternative to others that were more addictive.
But in 2007, the pharmaceutical giant admitted the claim was misleading and paid a US$634.5 million settlement in the United States.
In June, Purdue honored a federal government request to stop marketing opioids due to the toll prescription drugs were taking on Canadians.