Doctors call on Ottawa to launch criminal investigation into opioid marketing in Canada
'Pretty rare to call for a criminal investigation, as a doctor or researcher,' says MD involved
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On Friday, a group of Canadian doctors and opioid researchers sent a letter to the Attorney General of Canada and to Health Canada demanding a criminal investigation into the marketing of opioids to Canadian doctors.
"While Purdue has already pleaded guilty to illegally marketing opioids in the U.S., no opioid manufacturer has been prosecuted in Canada," the letter stated.
"The opioid crisis is one of the defining issues of this time," said Dr. Nav Persaud, a family doctor at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. "It's pretty rare to call for a criminal investigation, as a doctor or researcher, but a group of colleagues and I have decided to do so because this is such an important issue."
Purdue Pharma, which introduced OxyContin to the marketplace in the mid-1990s, heavily promoted the pain medication to doctors at the time by claiming that it was less addictive.
In the U.S. in 2007, Purdue executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges that they misled doctors and patients about the drug's addictive potential.
"Now I am stating publicly with my colleagues that there should be a criminal investigation in Canada," Persaud said, adding that Canada has laws preventing companies from making false and misleading claims about products.
"There are definitely laws that could have been broken in this case."
"Purdue Pharma (Canada) has always marketed its products in line with the Health Canada approved product monograph and in compliance with all relevant rules, regulations and codes, including the Food and Drugs Act and the Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board (PAAB) Code," Purdue Pharma (Canada) spokesperson Walter Robinson wrote in an email to CBC News.
In the U.S., Purdue has stated it will no longer market opioids to doctors. But the Canadian company, which operates independently, has not made a similar declaration.
Persaud said he and his colleagues decided to call for a criminal investigation now after a decision last month by a Saskatchewan judge to reject the settlement Purdue Pharma (Canada) had agreed to pay Canadian opioid victims after they launched a class action suit.
Justice Brian Barrington-Foote stated in his decision that he was not convinced the $20-million settlement was "fair, reasonable and in the best interests of the class as a whole." Lawyers estimated that individual opioid victims would have received up to $13,500.
Purdue Pharma (Canada) said in an email that the company is "considering next steps" following the Saskatchewan decision and that "Purdue Pharma (Canada) has made no admissions of liability."
Persaud and his colleagues are also calling on Ottawa to directly compensate victims by using legislation to recover funds from the continued sale of the opioids in Canada.
"I think it's important to note that companies that may have contributed to the opioid crisis are continuing to profit from it," said Persaud.
Health Canada told CBC News in an email that Canada's opioid prescribing rate is still the second highest in the world after the United States.
"The government of Canada recognizes that the high level of opioids historically prescribed in Canada has contributed to the devastating impacts of the current opioid crisis."
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