Closeup: a yellow OxyContin tablet sits alone on a white background.

Photo Credit: Dominic Milton Trott | Flickr

One $150 Million Settlement Down, 39 More to Go

1 out of 40 drug companies goes for a payout, but this won't solve the Island's toxic drug crisis

Drug companies need to take responsibility, but they’re only part of the problem

BC’s 2018 class action lawsuit against more than 40 drug companies is beginning to show results.

The lawsuit contains some household names like Shoppers Drug Mart. And it takes aim at a major contributor to BC’s opioid epidemic.

The province chose to sue over claimed damages to the healthcare system caused by “deceptive marketing practices with a view to increase sales, resulting in increased rates of addiction and overdose.”

These marketing practices reportedly promoted drugs such as fentanyl, hydromorphone, morphine, methadone and tramadol as less addictive than they really are.

Traditionally, these drugs had been used to treat short-term pain from really bad injuries. The government argues that marketing by drug companies made doctors more likely to prescribe the medications long-term, which drove up addiction.

One company just chose to pay up. They’d been sued specifically for their part in introducing OxyContin to the market in 1996. Purdue Canada took an out-of-court settlement for $150M. 

“[This] paves the way for additional settlements to be reached in the ongoing litigation against other manufacturers and distributors of opioid products,” stated BC Attorney General David Eby in a press release.

We’ll find out what happens with the rest of them as the agreement goes through final approval by courts in the coming months.

But folks who work with addicted people aren’t so sure this lawsuit will do much.

Garth Mullins is a board member of the British Columbia Association of People on Methadone. “Right now, people are not dying from prescription drugs… they’re dying from the street supply, which is illegal and unregulated,” he told The Tyee.

Dr. Alexis Crabtree is a physician in public health and preventative medicine at the University of British Columbia. She and her team studied overdoses in BC back in 2020. She found that only 10 percent of people who died from an overdose had a prescription for opioids.

“What we found is that this overdose crisis is not driven by prescribed medications and de-prescribing initiatives alone won’t solve the overdose crisis,” she told the Canadian Press.

BC recently decriminalized small amounts of certain street drugs. But the toxic drug crisis carries on.

Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns introduced a bill in the House of Commons to create a national strategy to deal with the crisis. Sadly, that bill was rejected.