Drug money

The Citizen-Record (Cumberland) - - OPINION -

Some things just don’t add up. This week, the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Health In­for­ma­tion com­plied in­for­ma­tion for CBC News that spells out that provin­cial gov­ern­ments in New Brunswick, Prince Ed­ward Is­land and New­found­land and Labrador spent $52 mil­lion on opi­oid pre­scrip­tions in the five years be­tween 2010 and 2015.

Public drug plans across the coun­try spent $423.3 mil­lion on the drugs in the same pe­riod.

At the same time, provin­cial gov­ern­ments across the coun­try have agreed to set­tle their part of a ma­jor law­suit against the big­gest opi­oid profit-maker, Pur­due Pharma. The clas­s­ac­tion suit will be set­tled for $20 mil­lion – just $2 mil­lion of which is des­tined for provin­cial drug plans. After that set­tle­ment, which the prov­inces have agreed to, they’ll be un­able to move for­ward in “ini­ti­at­ing, as­sert­ing or pros­e­cut­ing any claim, ac­tion, lit­i­ga­tion, in­ves­ti­ga­tion or other pro­ceed­ing in any court of law ... or any other fo­rum” in re­la­tion to the use and abuse of the com­pany’s de­lay-re­lease painkiller, OxyCon­tin – a drug so of­ten abused it came to be known by the nick­name “hilly­billy heroin.”

As part of the set­tle­ment, Pur­due Pharma doesn’t even have to ad­mit li­a­bil­ity for the ef­fects of the drug.

Con­trast that with the United States, where phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies have paid var­i­ous lev­els of gov­ern­ment US$35.7 bil­lion over the last 25 years to cover li­a­bil­ity is­sues.

Some­thing has to change.

After all, Pur­due Pharma paid the state of Ken­tucky – just one sin­gle state – US$24 mil­lion to set­tle a law­suit there.

The prob­lem is that drug reg­u­la­tion is a fed­eral is­sue, and our fed­eral gov­ern­ment has taken a long-stand­ing co-op­er­a­tive ap­proach with drug man­u­fac­tur­ers.

But dam­age is be­ing done on a huge scale in this coun­try as a re­sult of the abuse of opi­oid drugs, and that cri­sis tracks straight back to the in­tro­duc­tion of OxyCon­tin.

Keep this in mind: as a re­sult of the drug com­pany mis­lead­ingly telling doc­tors and others that OxyCon­tin was less ad­dic­tive than other painkillers, Pur­due Pharma paid US$634.5 mil­lion in 2007 to set­tle crim­i­nal and civil charges. Here, they won’t even ad­mit there’s a prob­lem.

At the same time, the com­pany took in to­tal rev­enues of US$31 bil­lion by sell­ing OxyCon­tin.

How should the sys­tem ac­tu­ally work?

If a drug causes large-scale harm, the com­pany that prof­ited from that harm should be fully re­spon­si­ble for clean­ing up its mess. At the very least, no drug com­pany should ever end up turn­ing a profit from a drug that does more harm than good.

Provin­cial leg­is­la­tors are call­ing on Ot­tawa to take fed­eral ac­tion against the drug man­u­fac­turer un­der the Food and Drug Act. It’s very much the right call.

No one – and no com­pany, how­ever large and pow­er­ful – should be al­lowed to profit from the mis­ery of others.

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