Cana­dian drug mak­ers hit with $1.1 bil­lion law­suit

Class ac­tion claims com­pa­nies pushed opioids de­spite known risks

The Sudbury Star - - ONTARIO - COLIN PERKEL

Cana­dian drug mak­ers en­riched them­selves at the ex­pense of vul­ner­a­ble pa­tients by il­le­gally and de­cep­tively pro­mot­ing highly ad­dic­tive opioids that have killed thou­sands in re­cent years, a pro­posed class ac­tion filed Wed­nes­day as­serts.

The untested state­ment of claim filed in On­tario Su­pe­rior Court seeks more than $1.1 bil­lion in var­i­ous dam­ages from al­most two dozen com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing some of the big­gest phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal names in the coun­try such as Apo­tex, Bris­tol-Myers Squibb, John­son and John­son and the Jean Coutu Group.

The suit, filed on be­half of pa­tients who be­came ad­dicted to pre­scribed opioids, also seeks a dec­la­ra­tion that the com­pa­nies were neg­li­gent in how they re­searched, de­vel­oped and mar­keted opioids start­ing in the 1990s.

“The de­fen­dants knew that any­one who in­jected opioids would be at sig­nif­i­cant risk of be­com­ing ad­dicted,” the claim as­serts. “As such, the de­fen­dants breached statu­tory and com­mon law du­ties to the plain­tiff and class who be­came ad­dicted to opioids for which the de­fen­dants owe dam­ages.”

The pro­posed rep­re­sen­ta­tive plain­tiff is Dar­ryl Ge­bien, of Toronto, a doc­tor pre­scribed the opi­oid Per­co­cet for a lig­a­ment in­jury in his thumb. Ge­bien be­came ad­dicted, the claim as­serts.

“Dr. Ge­bien’s ad­dic­tion had a sig­nif­i­cant and last­ing im­pact on his life,” the claim states. “Dr. Ge­bien lost his li­cence to prac­tise medicine. He lost his job. He was in­car­cer­ated. He lost cus­tody of his chil­dren.”

Opioids are a pow­er­ful nar­cotic that can in­duce an ad­dic­tive, eu­phoric high that re­quires higher doses over time to main­tain ef­fec­tive­ness and avoid symp­toms of with­drawal. The drugs were not widely pre­scribed for pain treat­ment be­cause they were con­sid­ered too ad­dic­tive but that ap­proach changed in the mid-1990s.

“The de­fen­dants pro­moted opioids as safe, ef­fec­tive and ap­pro­pri­ate for long-term use for rou­tine pain con­di­tions,” the claim states. “The ag­gres­sive mar­ket­ing ef­forts of the de­fen­dants were incredibly suc­cess­ful.”

No state­ments of defence have been filed and there was no im­me­di­ate com­ment from any of the drug com­pa­nies. Purdue has pre­vi­ous said it mar­keted its prod­ucts in ac­cor­dance with the rules.

The abuse of opioids has be­come a wide­spread pub­lic health cri­sis, with fa­tal over­doses be­com­ing epi­demic across North Amer­ica. They have killed more than 20,000 Cana­di­ans over the past 20 years and about 4,000 new deaths oc­cur an­nu­ally in Canada. In the United States, opioids kill more peo­ple than car crashes.

Lawyer Kirk Baert called the law­suit “long over­due.”

“These com­pa­nies need to be ac­count­able for the harm they have caused to thou­sands of Cana­di­ans,” Baert said.

The named de­fen­dants make, mar­ket, dis­trib­ute and sell opioids in Canada. Some of the drugs such as fen­tanyl, oxy­codone, and tra­madol have be­come house­hold names in light of the rav­ages they have wrought.

The state­ment of claim al­leges the com­pa­nies in­dulged in a pat­tern of “false and de­cep­tive” mar­ket­ing by, among other things, telling pa­tients that opi­oid use for pain re­lief would im­prove their qual­ity of life without any ad­verse ef­fects such as ad­dic­tion or with­drawal is­sues.

“The de­fen­dants knew or ought to have known that their rep­re­sen­ta­tions re­gard­ing the risks and ben­e­fits of opioids were not sup­ported by, or were con­trary to, sci­en­tific ev­i­dence,” the claim as­serts. “(They) ad­vised health­care pro­fes­sion­als to ig­nore signs of ad­dic­tion on the ba­sis of an un­founded con­di­tion they called pseu­doad­dic­tion.”

Last year, the Bri­tish Columbia govern­ment, which de­clared a pub­lic health emer­gency in 2016, also filed a pro­posed class ac­tion against phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies in an at­tempt to re­coup the health­care costs as­so­ci­ated with opi­oid ad­dic­tion.

That suit named 40 de­fen­dants. Other provinces have also con­sid­ered tak­ing such ac­tion.

AP FILES

A law­suit filed in On­tario Su­pe­rior Court seeks more than $1.1 bil­lion in var­i­ous dam­ages from al­most two dozen drug com­pa­nies, claim­ing drug mak­ers en­riched them­selves at the ex­pense of vul­ner­a­ble pa­tients.

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