EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally said New Brunswick was participating in the lawsuit. It has since been corrected to say Newfoundland, not New Brunswick, is participating in the lawsuit.
The Alberta government is joining a class-action lawsuit to recoup health-care costs related to the opioid crisis., the province’s health minister said Tuesday.
Tyler Shandro said there were almost 800 fatal overdoses and 4,200 emergency calls related to opioids in the province last year alone.
“Albertans have paid a high price for the irresponsible actions of opioid manufacturers and distributors,” Shandro said.
“While we cannot bring back those we have lost, we can recover some of the enormous financial costs Albertans have paid and continue to pay.”
READ MORE: Opioid overdoses kill 2 Albertans every day
The British Columbia government filed the proposed class-action suit a year ago, alleging drug manufacturers falsely marketed opioids as less addictive than other pain drugs, helping to trigger a crisis that has killed thousands.
The suit seeks costs from those manufacturers and distributors dating back to 1996, when the pain drug OxyContin was introduced in the Canadian market.
Ontario and Newfoundland previously announced they are also joining the suit.
None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been tested in court.
Shandro said opioids were being over-prescribed by doctors in Alberta, and they have taken action to deal with the problem. He added that it’s important manufacturers also be held accountable.
“One of the main reasons doctors over-prescribed is the companies told them that the opioids are safe. The manufacturers aggressively promoted the claim that opioids posed a low risk of addiction and that was misleading,” Shandro said.
“And second, we’re suing the companies because they over-supplied the drugs recklessly. They ignored evidence that the drugs were being over prescribed and diverted.”
Alberta spends $53 million a year on health care connected to opioids and is planning to spend an additional $40 million.
Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said the province is also looking at bringing in legislation, similar to B.C.’s Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act, to allow for the recovery of health costs.
“We must not just watch out for individual crimes but also large entities who pose a threat to our health, safety and peddle in misery and human despair,” Schweitzer said.
“I think that we have a strong, legal case here. To recover damages through litigation… is the most efficient and cost-effective proceeding giving us a stronger bargaining position and creating stronger pressure for the defendants to consider settlement.”
An Oklahoma court ruling in August found Johnson & Johnson helped fuel the state’s opioid crisis and ordered the company to pay US$572 million.
Purdue Pharma, the maker of the OxyContin, filed for bankruptcy in the United States and proposed a multibillion-dollar plan to settle with thousands of state and local governments.
Schweitzer said the Oklahoma ruling is encouraging and provides a basis for similar claims in Canada.
“Obviously, Canada and the United States have very different legal systems. But again we think this is an important step to stand up for all the lives lost in Alberta.”
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