Attorney General David Eby and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy face the press as they announce a class action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies in order to make them pay for the opioid crisis at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Wednesday. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)

Attorney General David Eby and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy face the press as they announce a class action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies in order to make them pay for the opioid crisis at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Wednesday. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)

B.C. suing drug companies to recoup overdose crisis costs

More than 2,000 people have died in B.C. because of illicit drug overdoses in the past two years

Standing on the steps of B.C.’s Supreme Court in Vancouver Wednesday, Attorney General David Eby announced that the province is headed to court to make drug companies pay for an opioid crisis that has claimed thousands of lives since 2016.

Eby and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy said B.C. is launching a class-action lawsuit against more than 40 opioid manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors.

“This morning… we have initiated a class action lawsuit against the different manufacturers and distributors of brand name and generic opioid medications in order to recover the public health care costs we allege were increased dramatically by their actions,” said Eby.

“We can’t yet know precisely the financial costs incurred by B.C. as a result of the actions of these firms. The cost is rising everyday.”

READ MORE: More than 130 people in B.C. died of illicit drug overdoses in July

READ MORE: Advocates slam B.C. government ads meant to fight overdose crisis

Nearly 900 people have died as a result of opioid-related overdoses in 2018 alone, and more than 3,300 have died since the average death toll nearly doubled in 2016.

The province will seek to recoup “the cost of treating problematic use and addiction, the cost of emergency services in response to overdose events, the cost of hospital treatment and so on.”

Eby referred to a 2007 agreed statement of fact signed by pharmaceutical giant Purdue Frederick with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Virginia.

The statement acknowledges that “certain Purdue supervisors and employees, with the intent to defraud or mislead, marketed and promoted OxyContin as less addictive, less subject to abuse and diversion, and less likely to cause tolerance and withdrawal than other pain medications.”

The illegal actions “dramatically increased company profits,” Eby said, and is the basis for the suit launched by B.C.

“We allege that Purdue is not alone in their illegal actions to drive profits,” he said.

The province filed its statement of claim Wednesday morning, and Eby said they are speaking with other provinces about collaborating on a larger suit.

Eby noted that “this litigation does not attempt to recover any damages for any family members affected by wrongdoing,” but simply to cover the costs born by the health care system as a result of the overdose crises.

The lawsuit goes hand-in-hand with an opioid damages and health-care costs recovery act to be introduced in B.C.’s legislature this fall, Darcy said.

“We know that no amount of money from this action can possibly make up for the loss of someone’s child, someone’s partner or someone’s friend,” said Darcy.

“Deceptive marketing practices by opioid manufacturers to increase demand for their product without regard to the consequences on people’s lives is the target of our actions today.”

Attorney General David Eby and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy explain the details of a class action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Wednesday. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)

Darcy acknowledged that while many opioids do have legitimate medical purposes, “there is sufficient evidence… that pharmaceutical companies knowingly and aggressively marketed these drugs to physicians and to the public well after they knew that there were risks attached to them.”

She was unable to provide a figure for the number of victims of medically-prescribed opioids versus those killed by a tainted street supply of drugs.

“Certainly, the majority of people who are dying today of overdoses are dying as a result of street drugs that are laced with fentanyl,” Darcy admitted.

“But today we are clearly saying that pharmaceutical companies must take responsibility for their role and put the lives of people before profit.”

Darcy said the province is investigating how many people who were first prescribed opioids by a doctor have since switched to street drugs to quench their addiction.

Eby said that Wednesday’s class-action suit was modelled on a similar suit against tobacco companies in 1998.

Although Eby admitted that the tobacco lawsuit remains tied up in the courts nearly two decades after it began, he said the province has learned lessons from that case.

“We do understand that these types of claims are defended aggressively by the firms that are targeted but that is no reason for us not to pursue cases where we believe that people have failed to take actions in a way that harmed British Columbians,” Eby said.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bystanders attend to a cyclist who is knocked to the pavement of Oak Bay Avenue. Witnesses say the cyclist was knocked off their bike in a dooring incident on Oak Bay Avenue at Fell Street at around 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday. 
(Daniel Opden Dries Photo)
UPDATED: VicPD tickets driver for ‘dooring’ cyclist on Oak Bay Avenue

Incident occurred at Oak Bay Avenue and Fell Street

West Shore RCMP pulled over a 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee on Nov. 23 after noting that it didn’t appear safe for the road. (West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP pull over vehicle held together by tape and cargo strap

RCMP deemed the vehicle unsafe for the road and had it towed away

Salon owner Philip Ferreira with the PPE collection box at The Natural Hair Salon, 618 View St. (Mariah Johal photo)
Victoria salon inspires more mask recycling

Anyone welcome to drop disposable masks in bin outside View Street shop

(Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria dine and dash brings $230 fine

Group paid the bill, police locate suspect who violated provincial restrictions, mistreated staff

Sidney and Central Saanich fire crews responded to a small fire at Eurosa Farms Tuesday evening. (Courtesy of Ryan Worsfold)
Small fire extinguished at Brentwood Bay flower farm

Family-run business sprang into action after smelling smoke at Eurosa Farms

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 24

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Haven Daley)
POLL: Do you think the current COVID-19 restrictions should continue beyond Dec. 7?

One week into the new restrictions to curtail the spread of the… Continue reading

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

An excavator was stolen from a rural property south of Nanaimo this month, say police. (Photos submitted)
Excavator stolen from property south of Nanaimo

Bobcat Mini believed to have been stolen between Nov. 12-14, say RCMP

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Most Read