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Canada

British Columbia sues drug firms, demanding they ‘take responsibility’ for Canada’s deadly opioid epidemic

More than 40 pharmaceutical companies are named in the lawsuit, including Oxycontin maker Purdue

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 12:38pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 9:46pm

The epicentre of Canada’s opioid crisis, British Columbia province, on Wednesday sued more than 40 drug companies to recover the costs of emergency paramedic responses and hospitalisations for overdoses.

It marks the first lawsuit against opioid manufacturers by a government in Canada – and the western province said it is in talks with other jurisdictions to join the class action.

“It’s time opioid drug companies take responsibility for the human and financial toll their products have taken on so many families,” said British Columbia Attorney General David Eby in a statement.

Overprescribing and illicit sales of diverted painkillers have been widely blamed for the opioid crisis sweeping North America.

However, allegations by British Columbia that the drug companies “deceived prescribers and patients about the risks and benefits of opioids” and “seriously harmed the public health care system” have not been proven in court.

The suit names opioid manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors as defendants – including Purdue, whose popular OxyContin drug has been blamed for triggering the crisis – accusing them of contributing to an “epidemic of addiction.”

In the United States, Purdue was among manufacturers named by New York City in a US$500 million lawsuit filed in January to recoup costs that could help battle the opioid crisis.

Canadian victims and their families reached a proposed C$20 million settlement with the company but it was blocked in March by a judge who found the sum to be insufficient.

Purdue and others have since stopped marketing opioids in Canada at the direction of the federal government.

Ottawa has also poured tens of millions of dollars into strengthening emergency services and distributing the overdose antidote naloxone.

Opioid overdoses claimed nearly 4,000 lives in Canada last year, according to public health data. British Columbia was hardest hit, with about a third of those overdose deaths.