Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said the province is watching legal action in British Columbia closely, as that province announced a proposed class-action lawsuit Wednesday against dozens of pharmaceutical companies in an attempt to recoup the costs associated with opioid addiction.
The lawsuit alleges the companies falsely marketed opioids as less addictive than other pain drugs and helped trigger an overdose crisis that has killed thousands.
On Wednesday, Hoffman said the province has received a copy of the lawsuit and will be going through the documents to determine their next steps.
“At this point, we’re certainly looking at their statement of claim,” she said. “I will definitely be discussing this with my colleagues across the country as well as here in Alberta with our own government under the premier’s leadership and working to ensure that we make the right decision.
“At this point we haven’t made a decision. We just received the documents and we will be going through those.”
Nearly 4,000 Canadians died from apparent opioid overdoses last year. B.C. remained the province hardest hit by the opioid crisis, with 1,450 deaths, up from 974 in 2016. The province declared a public health emergency in 2016.
Here in Alberta, fentanyl-related deaths continue to rise. There were 228 overdose deaths in the province from Jan. 1 through to early May, which, if the rate remains steady, would mean about 660 by the end of the year.
There were 583 deaths in 2017 and 368 the year before that.
Of the 228 deaths in Alberta in the first few months of 2018, 66 were from the more deadly opioid carfentanil.
“The opioid crisis has had devastating impacts – it has stolen too many lives, from too many families, in too many communities,” Hoffman said.
LISTEN BELOW: Rosalind Davis speaks to 630 CHED’s Ryan Jespersen about International Overdose Awareness Day
The health minister said the province continues to increase access to treatment, which includes supervised consumption services and naloxone kits. Naloxone is a medication used to block and reverse the effects of opioids.
“We continue to expand treatment spaces. We have 4,000 more treatment spaces than we did a year ago,” she said. “We know there’s still much more to be done as well.”
The lawsuit in B.C. is the first of its kind in Canada.
The notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court names 40 defendants. Statements of defence have not been filed and none of the allegations contained in the civil claim has been proven in court.