The Province of B.C. launched a class action lawsuit Wednesday aimed at the manufacturers and distributors of opioids in an effort to recover some of the health-care costs related to the epidemic.
“It’s time opioid drug companies take responsibility for the human and financial toll their products have taken on so many families across British Columbia,” Attorney General David Eby said. “In court, we will argue that these drug companies deceptively marketed their products knowing full well the potential consequences, and as a result, British Columbia has incurred great costs.”
The lawsuit names more than 40 opioid manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors, alleging that the companies’ practices have contributed to the current epidemic. Eby said the lawsuit claims that the companies deceived doctors and patients about the risks and benefits of the drugs.
“Opioid misuse and addiction has taken a terrible toll on thousands of families and individuals in British Columbia. These British Columbians deserve our compassion, our support and our determination to put an end to this epidemic,” Eby said, standing outside B.C. Supreme Court.
Eby pointed to a May 2007 case in West Virginia where Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin, pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it misled regulators and doctors about the risk of addiction to the drug.
In a signed agreed statement of facts in that case, Eby said, senior executives representing the company agreed that “Perdue supervisors and employees with the intent to defraud or mislead marketed and promoted OxyContin as less addictive, less subject to abuse and aversion, and less likely to cause tolerance and withdrawal than other pain medication.”
The company agreed to pay $600 million in fines.
The province’s lawsuit aims to recover millions of dollars in opioid-related health-costs incurred by the province. It claims that the deception about the risks and benefits of opioids has seriously harmed the public health-care system.
Last year, 1,450 people, 358 from Vancouver, in B.C. died from drug overdoses.
While most of the victims are dying from street drugs laced with fentanyl and carfentanyl, Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said the government is currently looking into the links between prescription opioids and street drugs.
“What this lawsuit is about is the aggressive marketing of the drug manufacturers of opioids,” Darcy said. “We are not in a position to say how many people who were on prescription opioids became addicted to those opioids and later turned to street drugs. That is research that is being undertaken at this time… We also believe strongly that pharmaceutical manufacturers must be held responsible for their actions and that it’s time they started putting people before profits.”