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Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey speaks at the legislature in Halifax, in an April 2, 2019, file photo.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

The Nova Scotia government is reserving the right under proposed legislation tabled Wednesday to sue opioid manufacturers and distributors to recover costs to its health system from the overdose crisis.

Health Minister Randy Delorey said the Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act would give the province the option to launch its own lawsuit or eventually join a British Columbia-led class action.

Delorey said while Nova Scotia has not seen the level of opioid-related deaths as some other provinces, it still registers about 60 deaths every year as a result of confirmed or probable opioid-related overdoses.

“Opioid overdose needlessly takes lives, places stress on communities and can overwhelm our emergency first responders and emergency departments,” he said. “It also puts a financial strain on our province in delivering those important health services.”

Delorey said the legislation would also allow the province to simplify the procedure for proving damages by allowing the use of aggregate health data instead of individual health records.

He said B.C., Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta and Ontario have all passed similar legislation while Saskatchewan is expected to pass a bill this spring.

Delorey said the government believes opioid manufacturers and wholesale distributors need to be held accountable for the harmful impact of the drug, although a decision on a possible legal move is not imminent at this point.

Current figures for the cost to the health system were not made available by the minister.

“Any legal submission as part of any potential future claim would be built and the evidence presented at that time,” Delorey said.

However, he did point to a 2014 study by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction that estimated the overall cost of opioid addiction in Nova Scotia to be $1.2-billion a year – a figure that included health care, justice and lost productivity.

Direct costs to the health system alone were estimated to be $24-million annually.

The province’s Liberal government spent $5.68-million last year to treat opioid-use disorder, to provide naloxone for overdose reversal and to train health workers.

According to the latest figures released by a national advisory committee studying the opioid crisis, close to 14,000 Canadians have been killed by the drugs over the last four years.

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