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Alberta proposes new legislation to join B.C.'s lawsuit against opioid companies

The Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act is being proposed so Alberta can join B.C. in its lawsuit to recover opioid-related health care costs.

The lawsuit alleges the companies falsely advertised the risks and addictive potential of their drugs

Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions said the province spends $53 million per year on opioid-related health care costs. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Alberta's health ministry is introducing the Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act, a new piece of legislation that would allow the province to participate in a national class action lawsuit against more than 40 opioid companies. 

"It would demonstrate to the defendants that Alberta has the tools in place to pursue litigation if necessary. This would strengthen our negotiating position in the event of any settlement discussions," said Health Minister Tyler Shandro on Thursday late afternoon. 

The lawsuit was filed by B.C. in August last year. It alleges companies involved in manufacturing, distributing and selling opioids downplayed the risks and addictive potential of their drugs in advertising, therefore contributing to the health crisis. 

The lawsuit seeks compensation to recover costs to the public health-care system that were incurred because of opioid-related injuries, diseases, illnesses and deaths. 

Alberta said it will join B.C., Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador in becoming class members in the lawsuit. 

'Enormous costs' 

Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, said the province spends $53 million a year on opioid-related health care. Luan says it's planning to spend another $40 million to add 4,000 new addiction treatment spaces. 

"Over the past years, we know that the health-care system has endured enormous costs related to opioids. These costs are due in part to the aggressive marketing efforts of opioid manufacturers and distributors," he said. 

Since 2016, more than 1,800 Albertans have died from fentanyl poisoning. Last year, nearly 800 fatally overdosed on opioids.

Current legislation

Alberta currently has the Crown's Right of Recovery Act that governs the recovery of health-care costs.

But the act does not give the province a "direct cause of action against opioid manufacturers and wholesalers," a press release from the province says.  

The new legislation would allow Alberta to use facts and population statistics to justify its right to sue the companies for compensation. 

It would also allow the province to do cost calculation on an aggregate, versus individual basis and remove time limitations. In this case, it can seek to recover costs incurred since 1996. 

In order to be in effect, the act still needs to be passed by members of the legislative assembly and receive royal assent from the lieutenant-governor.

The certification of the lawsuit's motion is not expected to be heard until mid-2020. 

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