A proposed class action filed today accuses almost two dozen companies of enriching themselves at the expense of vulnerable patients. (Black Press Media file photo)

Canadian drug makers hit with $1.1B suit for pushing opioids despite risks

The suit alleges the companies deceptively promoted addictive opioids despite knowing the dangers

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.”

READ MORE: Carfentanil, an opioid more toxic than illicit fentanyl, on the rise in B.C.: Coroner

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 health-care 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 health-care costs associated with opioid addiction. That suit named 40 defendants. Other provinces have also considered taking such action.

This month, the maker of OxyContin in the United States was hit with another state lawsuit that alleges it kept pitching the painkiller to doctors even after its sales representatives raised concerns about inappropriate prescribing. The lawsuit against Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, which has said it may have to go bankrupt, made Pennsylvania at least the 39th state to sue the company.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Organizer, Victoria councillor, VicPD talk about upcoming rally for Black lives

‘It’s a simple ask’: Peace rally for Black lives organizer asks people to listen

George Floyd mural appears on Victoria street

Victoria artist Paul Archer painted the mural outside his shop on Fort Street

PHOTOS: Dozens show up to rebuild vandalized Victoria people-less protest

Chalk messages of support surround the fountain in Centennial Square

Parkland grads mark end to high school in virtual ceremony

North Saanich grads pre-tape graduation ceremony days before school officially reopened

Vancouver Island’s current COVID-19 case count officially hits zero

Of the 130 recorded Island Health cases, five people have died, 125 recovered

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Kelowna Mountie who punched suspect identified, condemned by sister

‘How did he get away with this? How is this justifiable?’

PHOTOS: Anti-racism protesters gather in communities across B.C.

More protests are expected through the weekend

POLL: Are you sending your children back to school this month?

Classrooms looked decidedly different when students headed back to school for the… Continue reading

Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park at large

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

No charges to be laid against 22 northern B.C. pipeline protesters

Twenty-two people were arrested in February, but Crown has decided not to pursue charges

Plan in place for BC Ferries to start increasing service levels

Ferry corporation reaches temporary service level agreement with province

B.C. starts to see employment return under COVID-19 rules

Jobless rate for young people still over 20% in May

Most Read