On June 29, opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma (Purdue Canada) agreed to the first of its kind settlement in Canada of $150 million, following a B.C.-led lawsuit created with the aim of recovering healthcare costs related to the sale and marketing of opioid-based pain medications. The lawsuit was filed by B.C. in 2018 on behalf of all federal, provincial, and territorial governments in Canada, targeting over 40 drug manufacturers and retailers across the province.
“We know that no amount of money can bring back those who have died, but we are committed to holding corporations and others accountable for acts of alleged wrongdoing committed in the manufacturing and distribution of opioid products,” said British Columbia Attorney General David Eby in an official statement.
Eby said that the proposed settlement was accepted by governments across Canada and currently, a plan is being made to determine how the money will be allocated based on the impact of each province.
“The money will be going to supporting provincial programs to fight the opioid epidemic that we believe Purdue’s actions contributed to through their deceptive marketing,” he said.
As part of the lawsuit, B.C. alleged that opioid manufacturers, distributors, and their consultants engaged in deceptive marketing practices with a goal to increase sales, which resulted in augmented rates of addiction and overdose. Specifically, according to B.C. officials, Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, had downplayed the risks of its drugs when advertising them to physicians, especially those related to their addictive potential, contributing to the growing opioid crisis.
As such, Purdue Canada was one of over 40 manufacturers and distributors named in the lawsuit, and it is also scheduled for a certification hearing in the next year.
In addition to the settlement, B.C.’s application to certify its class-action lawsuit in the B.C. Supreme Court has been scheduled for fall 2023, potentially leading to further settlements to recover healthcare costs.
“B.C. is using all the tools in the toolbox to tackle the ongoing public health emergency,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “We are standing up to multi-national pharmaceutical companies, advancing decriminalization, investing in new treatment and recovery services, expanding harm-reduction measures like prescribed safe supply, and building a comprehensive and seamless continuum of mental health and addictions care that British Columbians need and deserve.”
Furthermore, Eby added that the province will be “aggressively pursuing” many other opioid manufacturers, distributors, and companies named in the lawsuit until “they have all been held accountable.”
Initially, when the lawsuit was first filed, Purdue Pharma Canada had denied any wrongdoing. A statement released by the company stated that it followed Canadian and international rules pertaining to drug marketing, as well as the code of ethics prescribed by Innovative Medicines Canada, an industry group for pharmaceutical companies.