British Columbia

B.C. aims to accelerate lawsuit against opioid makers with new legislation

The litigation aims to recoup costs associated with the ongoing opioid crisis in B.C.

NDP calls for all-party support to pass legislation quickly to support legal action

In August, B.C. launched a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies to reclaim costs associated with the ongoing opioid crisis. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

The B.C. government has introduced legislation it says will allow it to move quickly on its lawsuit against opioid companies.

The litigation aims to recoup costs associated with the ongoing opioid crisis in B.C. and was filed in August against over 40 companies involved in the manufacture, distribution and wholesaling of the drugs.

The legislation is necessary to facilitate the introduction of evidence in the case and will expedite the court process, B.C. Attorney General David Eby said.

"We are calling on all parties in the house to work with us to expedite the passage of this bill," Eby said. "We are hoping it passes as quickly as possible, so we can get on with the litigation."

The opioid suit is based on similar legal action that was taken against tobacco companies, which has dragged on 20 years.

Eby said he couldn't provide any sense of a timeline for the case until opioid manufacturers respond to the legal action.

Class action lawsuit

The lawsuit is structured as a class action, so other provinces can choose to join, Eby said.

"We know that they have had similar experiences in terms of the increase in the number of people addicted to opioids as a result, we allege, of the activities of these companies."

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson says he will have to look at the content of the legislation before deciding whether to assist in passing it quickly, 

But he is concerned about how much the province will spend on legal fees that could ultimately go toward helping people.

"This will only bear fruit a decade from now, whereas people are dying today," he said.

Preventative measure

The litigation will not take any funds away from frontline action to fight the overdose death crisis, said Judy Darcy, B.C.'s minister of mental health and addictions.

While it comes at a cost, the legal action is still an important tool in responding to the crisis, which has devastated so many B.C. families, Darcy said.

"I have given them a solemn commitment that we would do everything in our power to save lives in this overdose crisis, but also to do everything in our power to prevent crises like this from happening again," Darcy said.

The province has earmarked more than $320 million to tackle the problem and that budget will remain intact, she added.

In its lawsuit, the government alleges companies downplayed the risks of their drugs when advertising them to physicians, especially when it comes to their addictive potential, thus contributing to the opioid crisis.

Purdue Pharma, one of the companies named in the government's statement of claim, has denied any wrongdoing.

Purdue said it has always obeyed Canadian and international rules about drug marketing and follows the code of ethics prescribed by Innovative Medicines Canada, an industry group for pharmaceutical companies.

With files from Liam Britten

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