The Current

Recovering addict still concerned after $20M class-action payout over OxyContin

This month, the makers of OxyContin settled a $20 million class-action lawsuit stemming from how the medication was marketed.
Former OxyContin addict and Glace Bay resident Stephen MacGillivray was one of the people who took part in the class-action lawsuit against Purdue Pharma. (Submitted by Stephen MacGillivray)

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In May, the makers of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, paid $20 million to settle a class-action lawsuit involving allegations about how the pain pills were marketed. 

The payout puts an end to a decade-long court battle on behalf of roughly 2,000 Canadians who became addicted to the drug after their doctors prescribed it. 

Stephen MacGillivray is one of the people who took part in the class-action lawsuit. He tells The Current's Friday host Kelly Crowe, he was first prescribed OxyContin in 1997 after fracturing his clavicle at work.

"I went to see my doctor ... he asked me how the pain was, and I said, 'you know, it was bad but it was treatable.'"

MacGillivray says he was prescribed OxyContin after the operation to fix his injury.
According to the Nova Scotia government, when OxyContin was first introduced to the town of Glace Bay, prescriptions for the drug went up by 270 per cent over three years. (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)

And it didn't take long until he was completely hooked.

"It not only took the pain away, it took a lot of things away. It took a lot of worries away," says MacGillivray.

"And all of a sudden it's just like it's got a hold of you."

MacGillivray also recalls how quickly the drug took hold of his community. 

"It just was a drug that was never seen before on the streets or basically, you know, in the pharmacy," he says.

"And it just kind of just blew up from there."

Back in 2006, MacGillivray was featured in the National Film Board documentary Cottonland chronicling his own battles with OxyContin. The film's name is a reference to a nickname given to Glace Bay, N.S., for its widespread problem with OxyContin addiction.

According to the provincial government, when OxyContin was first introduced there, prescriptions for the drug went up by 270 per cent over three years. 

Those alarming numbers were not confined to Cape Breton alone. 

A Canadian Medical Association study released in 2009 found that deaths related to Oxycodone use increased five times after OxyContin was introduced to Ontario's public drug plan.

Despite the settlement, Purdue Pharma maintains it "makes no admissions of liability," and now some are calling on the provincial and federal governments to take their own legal action against the OxyContin manufacturer, as well.

MacGillivray says he'd like to see more programs available to help people suffering from addiction. He'd also like to see some action from the federal and provincial governments.

"I know we have to get a lot more stringent on our narcotics, they're given way too much ... these drugs are killing people every day," he says.

Today MacGillivray is in recovery and he credits a methadone maintenance program for saving his life.

But he remembers just how destructive his life was while he was taking OxyContin.

"It was just like one great big horror show."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Samira Mohyeddin and Pacinthe Mattar.