British Columbia

B.C. lawsuit against drug makers will shift focus away from opioid crisis, advocates fear

People affected by B.C.'s opioid crisis say the province is putting resources into the wrong area by taking legal action against drug manufacturers.

Government suing more than 40 companies for downplaying effects of their drugs

Many people who become addicted to opioids begin with prescription drugs. (CBC)

People affected by B.C.'s opioid crisis say the province's legal action against drug manufacturers is a case of putting resources in the wrong area.

Attorney General David Eby announced Wednesday that the B.C. government is suing more than 40 companies, accusing the makers of prescription opioids of downplaying the harmful effects of their drugs.

"When I heard the news, I was shocked," said Leslie McBain, the founder of the advocacy network Moms Stop The Harm.

"At first, I thought 'Good, go get them' … But it's not going to make any changes in the crisis that we are experiencing. It's sort of a red herring."

Carl Miller and Leslie McBain show a photo of their son, Jordan Miller, who died of an opioid overdose in 2014. (Health Canada)

McBain, whose son died of an overdose in 2014, said she thinks the legal action is coming at the wrong time.

"Why are they doing this now when we are in the middle of an overdose crisis?" she said. "It's not where I would like to see the government put resources and their energy."

Jordan Miller became addicted to prescription opioids after hurting his back in a construction accident. (Leslie McBain)

McBain's son Jordan Miller was prescribed oxycodone after injuring his back in a construction accident in his early 20s.

Seven months later, he was addicted. After his family doctor cut him off, he began to seek drugs elsewhere — shopping around multiple doctors and walk-in clinics for prescription opioids​.

"He ended up with a cocktail of other prescription drugs," McBain said.

"That combination of drugs stopped his heart."

Distraction from recovery

Andrey Bakushev, a former addict, is also concerned the lawsuit will divert attention and resources away from combating the health crisis.

"The lawsuit itself is completely irrelevant at this point," he said. "[It's a] diversion technique of the B.C. government just to take the minds of British Columbians off of this incredible epidemic."

Andrey Bakushev, a registered nurse, first became addicted while serving in the Russian military and, after kicking his habit, once again got hooked when he was in a car accident and was prescribed opioids. (Clare Hennig/CBC)

He fears the lawsuit is focusing responsibility away from political policies and said he'd rather see more money and energy focused on supporting recovery programs instead.

"If I kept blaming the manufacturer for my problem, I don't think I would have found 11-year recovery by now."

'Need to be held accountable'

But the parents of Elliot Eurchuk, who died of an accidental overdose in April aged 16, welcomed the government's move.

Elliot had been prescribed opioids for a sports injury and turned to street drugs after becoming addicted. 

Brock Eurchuk and Rachel Staples flip through photos of their son, Elliot Eurchuk, who died of an overdose in April. (CBC)

"It's a long time coming. Certainly, these drug companies need to be held accountable," said his mother, Rachel Staples.

"They've deluded the public for so long ... these drugs are extremely addictive and are now killing people at an alarming rate every day."

Sixteen-year-old Elliot Eurchuk died at his home after taking street drugs his parents believe he was using to help him sleep. His parents Rachel Staples and Brock Eurchuck say his drug use started after he was prescribed opioids for four surgical procedures. (The Canadian Press/Rachel Staples)

With files from The Early Edition and On The Island

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