Attorney General David Eby and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy face the press as they announce a class action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies in order to make them pay for the opioid crisis at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Wednesday. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)

B.C. suing drug companies to recoup overdose crisis costs

More than 2,000 people have died in B.C. because of illicit drug overdoses in the past two years

Standing on the steps of B.C.’s Supreme Court in Vancouver Wednesday, Attorney General David Eby announced that the province is headed to court to make drug companies pay for an opioid crisis that has claimed thousands of lives since 2016.

Eby and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy said B.C. is launching a class-action lawsuit against more than 40 opioid manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors.

“This morning… we have initiated a class action lawsuit against the different manufacturers and distributors of brand name and generic opioid medications in order to recover the public health care costs we allege were increased dramatically by their actions,” said Eby.

“We can’t yet know precisely the financial costs incurred by B.C. as a result of the actions of these firms. The cost is rising everyday.”

READ MORE: More than 130 people in B.C. died of illicit drug overdoses in July

READ MORE: Advocates slam B.C. government ads meant to fight overdose crisis

Nearly 900 people have died as a result of opioid-related overdoses in 2018 alone, and more than 3,300 have died since the average death toll nearly doubled in 2016.

The province will seek to recoup “the cost of treating problematic use and addiction, the cost of emergency services in response to overdose events, the cost of hospital treatment and so on.”

Eby referred to a 2007 agreed statement of fact signed by pharmaceutical giant Purdue Frederick with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Virginia.

The statement acknowledges that “certain Purdue supervisors and employees, with the intent to defraud or mislead, marketed and promoted OxyContin as less addictive, less subject to abuse and diversion, and less likely to cause tolerance and withdrawal than other pain medications.”

The illegal actions “dramatically increased company profits,” Eby said, and is the basis for the suit launched by B.C.

“We allege that Purdue is not alone in their illegal actions to drive profits,” he said.

The province filed its statement of claim Wednesday morning, and Eby said they are speaking with other provinces about collaborating on a larger suit.

Eby noted that “this litigation does not attempt to recover any damages for any family members affected by wrongdoing,” but simply to cover the costs born by the health care system as a result of the overdose crises.

The lawsuit goes hand-in-hand with an opioid damages and health-care costs recovery act to be introduced in B.C.’s legislature this fall, Darcy said.

“We know that no amount of money from this action can possibly make up for the loss of someone’s child, someone’s partner or someone’s friend,” said Darcy.

“Deceptive marketing practices by opioid manufacturers to increase demand for their product without regard to the consequences on people’s lives is the target of our actions today.”

Attorney General David Eby and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy explain the details of a class action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Wednesday. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)

Darcy acknowledged that while many opioids do have legitimate medical purposes, “there is sufficient evidence… that pharmaceutical companies knowingly and aggressively marketed these drugs to physicians and to the public well after they knew that there were risks attached to them.”

She was unable to provide a figure for the number of victims of medically-prescribed opioids versus those killed by a tainted street supply of drugs.

“Certainly, the majority of people who are dying today of overdoses are dying as a result of street drugs that are laced with fentanyl,” Darcy admitted.

“But today we are clearly saying that pharmaceutical companies must take responsibility for their role and put the lives of people before profit.”

Darcy said the province is investigating how many people who were first prescribed opioids by a doctor have since switched to street drugs to quench their addiction.

Eby said that Wednesday’s class-action suit was modelled on a similar suit against tobacco companies in 1998.

Although Eby admitted that the tobacco lawsuit remains tied up in the courts nearly two decades after it began, he said the province has learned lessons from that case.

“We do understand that these types of claims are defended aggressively by the firms that are targeted but that is no reason for us not to pursue cases where we believe that people have failed to take actions in a way that harmed British Columbians,” Eby said.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Efforts to replace the aging Rutland Middle School have been put off by another year by the ministry of education. (File photo)
Education ministry won’t replace Rutland Middle School anytime soon

New Westside Secondary top priority for ministry of education

West Kelowna Warriors goaltender Roman Basran stood tall in a 4-3 shootout victory over the Vernon Vipers Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. (Lisa Mazurek Photography)
Vernon Vipers fall to West Kelowna Warriors in shootout

Kelowna Rockets goalie Roman Basran helped the warriors to a 4-3 SO win Friday night.

Thanks to efforts by a Kelowna shelter and Elections BC, anyone who wishes to can vote in the 2020 BC Provincial Election, even if they don’t have a fixed address. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Kelowna group ensures people experiencing homelessness can vote

Shelter supervisor says voting ‘a fundamental right’ even for those without a fixed address

City Park, Oct. 23. Image: Lynn Morran
Snow forces tunnel closure under W.R. Bennett Bridge

Branches from trees are breaking and falling across City Park

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Cole Collingwood casts his mock ballot at Vernon’s Mission Hill Elementary School ahead of the provincial election Oct. 24, 2020. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
PHOTOS: Okanagan students cast mock election ballots

At Mission Hill Elementary, the election is a chance to learn about the democratic process

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The deer were allegedly shot within Princeton town limits, late at night. Black Press File Photo.
Armed man, in full camouflage, allegedly shoots deer in downtown Princeton

‘The list of charges goes on and on,’ said RCMP Sgt. Rob Hughes

Andrew Allen performed for two intimate crowds of 50 at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre Oct. 17. (Camillia Courts Photography)
Live events continue on North Okanagan stage

First Andrew Allen plays two sold-out shows, next up have a laugh with comedian Mike Delamont

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Most Read