Alberta joins lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies over opioid crisis
CALGARY — The Alberta government is joining British Columbia in a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies aimed at recovering the costs associated with opioid addiction.
"We think this is an important step to stand up for all of the lives lost in Alberta," justice minister Doug Schweitzer said in Calgary Tuesday.
Last year, 789 people died after taking synthetic opioids compared to 733 in 2017, according to data supplied by Alberta Health Services. Between January and June of this year, 305 people have died from opioid overdoses in the province.
British Columbia’s civil suit lists Purdue Pharma Inc., which manufactures OxyContin, along with other major drug producers.
It also targets pharmacies, saying pharmacists should have known the quantity of opioids they were distributing was in excess of any legitimate market demand.
Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Alberta is joining the lawsuit and taking aim at manufacturers because companies “oversupplied the drugs recklessly.”
"Suing the opioid companies today won't change the crisis we're in," Shandro added, "but holding them accountable is the right thing to do. Any damages awarded will save lives in the future."
None of the allegations contained in the lawsuit have been proven in court.
Joining the lawsuit is a step that's applauded by those who have been hit hardest by the epidemic.
"I applaud the government for holding the drug companies accountable," said Petra Schultz, whose son, Danny Schulz, died of an overdose in 2014.
"I really hope that this court case will not be a distration of what we really need to do, which is immediately deal with the overdose crisis that we have on hand," said Schulz.
After her son's death, she co-founded the organization 'Moms Stop the Harm,' which supports parents who have had a child die from an opioid overdose.
In the U.S., hundreds of similar lawsuits have been filed by governments claiming the companies played a role in creating an addiction crisis that killed 42,000 Americans in 2016.
In August, an Oklahoma judge ruled drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson intentionally downplayed the dangers, while overselling the benefits of opioids. The company was ordered it to pay $572 million.
There’s no word when exactly the class-action lawsuit will be certified in British Columbia. Alberta has yet to determine the dollar amount it will seek in its suit.
Ontario and New Brunswick have also said they are taking part in the lawsuit.