British Columbia files lawsuit against opioid industry; BC Liberals call for “meaningful action”

David Eby

THE Province of B.C. has launched a class action lawsuit against opioid drug companies, whose marketing practices have had devastating impacts on the lives of thousands of British Columbians.

The lawsuit, filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, aims to recover millions of dollars in opioid-related health-care costs incurred by the provincial government.

“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,” said David Eby, Attorney General. “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.”

More than 40 opioid manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors are named as defendants. The government’s filing alleges that the companies’ practices have contributed to an epidemic of addiction, and that they placed profits over the health and safety of the public. It claims that the companies deceived prescribers and patients about the risks and benefits of opioids, and that the companies have seriously harmed the public health-care system.

To assist the court process, government will also be introducing legislation similar to legislation that supported “Big Tobacco” litigation in 1998. The opioid damages and health-care costs recovery act will be introduced in the fall session of the legislature.

“I have sat with family members who have lost loved ones to overdose, and we are taking action to address the terrible impact overdose is having on the lives of our children, partners and friends,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Drug companies must take responsibility for their role, and need to put the lives of people ahead of profits.”

“As provincial leaders, we need to work together to reduce harm and stigma, address the root causes of the crisis, and support people struggling with mental health and addiction,” said Sonia Furstenau of the B.C. Green Party. “The ability to recover costs would be an important advancement.”


The lawsuit

* The claim is against more than 40 companies involved in manufacturing, wholesaling or distributing brand name and generic opioid drugs.

* British Columbia’s opioid-related health-care costs are rising each day and are still being determined. It is too soon to speculate on the damages the lawsuit may seek, or how any award might be applied to alleviating government’s health-care costs.

* If the court certifies the claim as a class action under the Class Proceedings Act, other provinces and territories will be able to join the lawsuit. Discussions with other jurisdictions are underway.

* A timeline for large and complex litigation like this is difficult to predict. The next step will be to serve each of the defendant companies with a copy of the lawsuit and await their response. Government will then prepare for the certification hearing.


The legislation

* Government will introduce the opioid damages and health-care costs recovery act in the next sitting of the legislature.

* The legislation will allow the court to consider statistical data, budget information and other population-based evidence of government’s opioid-related costs, rather than having to introduce each expense record for individual patients.


BC Liberal Critic for Mental Health and Addictions Jane Thornthwaite in a statement on the government announcement said: “The BC Liberal Caucus supports any initiative to save lives and hold those who might be responsible for our overdose epidemic to account.

“Four people die every day from an opioid overdose in this province. This is a crisis that needs urgent response, which we are not seeing from the NDP government. A court case that will likely drag out over decades will not save lives and could divert scarce resources away from front-line response and solutions that will help people get well.

“In addition, this case may have the unintended consequence of making people believe that there’s only one culprit behind the current overdose epidemic, when really there is a chain of failures that need to be addressed. To suggest that this is solely about drug companies is an overly simplistic response and focuses too much attention on one single part of the problem.

“We also have yet to see a strategy from this government that provides meaningful treatment and recovery for adults. Last month, the B.C. Centre on Substance Use released a comprehensive report setting a pathway to expanding recovery services in the province. Since then, this government has done nothing.

“As statistics show from last month, this crisis is only getting worse. We need immediate action to help addicts get well, such as the Safe Care Act I proposed last spring. The NDP refused to even discuss the bill, which has wide support from the addictions recovery community.

“Sadly, today’s announcement will not save any lives. I call on the NDP to take meaningful action and table my bill for debate on the first day that the Legislature resumes.”