British Columbia’s attorney general says he is pleased with the findings of a court in Oklahoma that found Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries helped fuel the state’s opioid crisis as it ordered the company to pay US $572-million, more than twice the amount another drug manufacturer agreed to pay in a settlement.
The province filed a proposed class-action lawsuit a year ago against dozens of pharmaceutical companies in a bid to recoup the health-care costs associated with opioid addiction.
The untested suit alleges the companies falsely marketed opioids as less addictive than other pain drugs and helped trigger an overdose crisis that has killed thousands since OxyContin was introduced to the Canadian market in 1996.
David Eby likened the aim of the lawsuit in British Columbia to the one in Oklahoma.
“The lawsuit we launched in 2018 holds pharmaceutical companies similarly accountable for the harm they have done to British Columbians and for the financial burdens they have placed on our health care system,” he alleged in a statement on Monday.
“Along with our recently enacted Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act, this measure is another example of the work that this government is undertaking every day to address the ongoing opioid crisis and build a better system of care and support for British Columbians.”
The civil claim filed by the B.C. government names the maker of OxyContin — Purdue Pharma Inc. — as well as other major drug manufacturers, and also targets pharmacies, alleging they should have known the quantities of opioids they were distributing exceeded any legitimate market.
None of the allegations contained in the civil claim has been proven in court.
A statement of defence from Purdue Pharma could not be found on the B.C. Supreme Court website on Monday, but in a previous statement the company said it followed all of Health Canada’s regulations, including those governing marketing. The company also says it has adhered to the code of ethical practices as a member of Innovative Medicines Canada, a pharmaceutical industry organization that works with governments, insurance companies and health-care professionals.
“Purdue Pharma (Canada) is deeply concerned about the opioids crisis, in British Columbia, and right across Canada,” the company said in a statement after B.C. filed its lawsuit.
“The opioids crisis is a complex and multi-faceted public health issue that involves both prescription opioids and, increasingly, illegally produced and consumed opioids, as indicated in Health Canada’s latest quarterly monitoring report. All stakeholders, including the pharmaceutical industry, have a role to play in providing practical and sustainable solutions.”
Earlier this year, the Ontario government said it plans to join B.C.’s proposed lawsuit.
In Oklahoma, Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman’s ruling followed the first state opioid case to make it to trial and could help shape negotiations over roughly 1,500 similar lawsuits filed by state, local and tribal governments consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio.
“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma,” Balkman said before announcing the judgment. “It must be abated immediately.”
An attorney for the companies said they plan to appeal the ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Before Oklahoma’s trial began May 28, the state reached settlements with two other defendant groups — a $270-million deal with Purdue Pharma and an $85 million settlement with Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
Oklahoma argued the companies and their subsidiaries created a public nuisance by launching an aggressive and allegedly misleading marketing campaign that overstated how effective the drugs were for treating chronic pain and understated the risk of addiction.