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Alberta government tables bill to strengthen opioid cost-recovery lawsuits

A new bill tabled in the Alberta legislature on Tuesday aims to strengthen the province’s case in class-action lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and consultants. 

Alberta has joined two class-action lawsuits launched by British Columbia that seek to recover the health-care costs related to treating opioid addiction. 

The province passed the Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act in December 2019. 

The new bill, introduced Tuesday by Mental Health and Addictions Minister Dan Williams, proposes three changes to the original legislation. 

The proposed changes include adding the word consultants to the legislation, which would allow the province to recover costs from companies that advised opioid manufacturers and distributors. The bill also defines “active ingredients” as an “opioid product.” 

Additionally, the bill amends the market share formula that will be used to determine damages paid by manufacturers and distributors/wholesalers if the court rules in Alberta’s favour. 

In a news conference on Tuesday, Williams said other provincial governments have either made or are making the same changes to their legislation to ensure all plaintiffs in the lawsuit are on the same page. 

“I am determined to get every single red cent I can from those who are responsible for causing this crisis,” Williams said. 

The B.C. government launched the first class-action lawsuit against at least 40 manufacturers and distributors on behalf of all provincial, federal and territorial governments in 2018. Alberta joined in October 2019. 

A hearing to certify the class action is scheduled in B.C Supreme Court late next month. 

A second class-action lawsuit aims to recover damages from consultants who advised the drug makers. The certification hearing is scheduled in January. 

Purdue Canada, one of the defendants in the first lawsuit, agreed to a settlement of $150 million in June 2022. 

From January to July 2023, 1,104 Albertans died from drug poisonings.

Nick Boyce, a policy analyst with the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition in Ottawa, said suing pharmaceutical companies may help fund programs years from now, but does little to keep people alive today. 

Boyce said people aren’t dying from pharmaceutical drugs, they are dying from a toxic illicit drug supply.

“I think this is all just a distraction from why are we not investing in safe supply programs getting people off the toxic drug market?” he asked.

“Why are we not scaling up harm reduction programs, supervised consumption sites? Why are we forcing abstinence-only based, non-evidence based treatment on people?”

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