The Alberta government introduced new legislation on Thursday that it says is meant to help it recover the health-care costs resulting from opioid use and to guide how the province might take part in a proposed national class-action lawsuit against the opioid industry.
“Today our government will take the next step to hold opioid manufacturers and wholesalers accountable,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro told reporters.
“People across the province have been affected directly and indirectly by opioid addiction, including overdose deaths for far too many people and disability for far more of those who have survived.”
This year alone, Shandro says health-care costs to the province that are associated with opioids amounted to $52 million.
Shandro said the government’s goal by introducing the Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act is to recover health-care costs and damages caused by “aggressive and misleading marketing.”
The government said the bill it is introducing is similar to legislation brought forth in B.C. and that it will let the government recover costs “on an aggregate basis, rather than calculating individual costs,” allow the government to recover health-care costs regardless of when the damages occurred, allow for the use of statistics “to establish causation and quantify damages or health-care costs,” and show Alberta’s support for the proposed class action.
“This is a matter of us just making sure we have the tools in place for us to be able to take the next steps in this process,” said Shandro, who added that his understanding is an application for a certification for a proposed national class action will likely be heard in mid-2020.
He said whether the province recovers funds through litigation or through settlements, the money recouped will be reinvested into Alberta’s health-care system, but not entirely to opioid-related services.
Jason Luan, associated minister of mental health and addictions, said the drug crisis has seen the province increase “opioid response funding” by $40 million and spending on mental health and addiction by $100 million, which includes the addition of 4,000 publicly-funded treatment and recovery spaces.
Luan called his government’s response to the crisis “an unprecedented commitment to increase access to addiction treatment and recovery services in Alberta,” and noted opioid use is currently resulting in about two deaths in Alberta every day.
The B.C. government filed a proposed class-action suit a year ago, alleging drug manufacturers misled people by advertising opioids as being less addictive than other pain medications and resulting in a crisis that has seen thousands of people died.
Governments in Ontario and Newfoundland have previously announced they are joining the suit that aims to recover costs from manufacturers and distributors going back to 1996, when OxyContin was first introduced into the Canadian market.
None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been tested in court.
–With files from The Canadian Press’ Bill Graveland