Alberta’s UCP government introduced legislation Tuesday aiming to hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable for the costs of the opioid addiction crisis.
Bill 3, the Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Amendment Act, if passed, will commit Alberta to a national class-action lawsuit launched by B.C. against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
The announcement renews the UCP’s support for the lawsuit that it first supported in 2019.
"I am determined to get every single red cent I can from those who are responsible for causing this crisis," said Addictions Minister Dan Williams.
According to a government news release, Bill 3 will make manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors subject to potential legal proceedings by denoting them as pharmaceutical "consultants."
In addition, Opioid Damages includes "active ingredient" in the definition of "opioid product" to provide more clarity that an active ingredient, itself, is an opioid product.
During the fall 2019 legislative session, Albertan MLAs unanimously passed the Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act, 2019 to support the province’s participation in a national class-action lawsuit against manufacturers and distributors who contributed to the opioid addiction crisis.
The proposed amendments align with the original act passed in 2019 and provide updates to best position Alberta in any legal proceedings.
Williams told reporters on October 31 that the decades-long crisis worsened with overprescribing highly addictive drugs to residents.
"Today’s addiction crisis stems from the actions of opioid manufacturers, distributors and their consultants who sought to sell as much of these dangerous drugs as possible for their own profit," said the minister.
"Their actions have resulted in billions of dollars of costs to Albertans, not to mention the devastating pain it has caused families and individuals suffering and dying from the deadly disease of addiction," he added.
According to the province, overprescribing opioids claimed the lives of thousands of Albertans and added substantial costs to its healthcare system. its latest drug poisoning data revealed that 161 Albertans died of opioid-related poisonings in July.
"We know that there are many, many people suffering," continued Williams. "It’s not lost on me that we have a huge task ahead of us to build this out."
"I believe in recovery, so I want to provide that capacity and I know that in the meantime," he said.
Moreover, the minister compared advocacy for 'safe supply' to the marketing campaigns of pharmaceutical companies.
"Lessons need to be learned," said Williams. "If we go down this road again, and we provide a second safe supply of high-powered pharmaceutical opioids en masse to the community, it will result in more addiction," he added.
Pending a legal victory, the UCP pledged all damages awarded would be invested in recovery support for those suffering from mental health challenges or addiction.
As part of its focus on recovery, the UCP has funded 10,000 addiction treatment spaces and expanded treatment access, including through the virtual opioid dependency program.
Devoid of statistics, Williams contends that wait lists to access treatment have declined since the UCP formed the government.
To calculate damages more accurately, Bill 3 will also amend the market share formula to distinguish between the market share of manufacturers and the market share of wholesalers and distributors.
In 2022, Purdue Canada proposed a $150 million settlement as one of 40 manufacturers and distributors named in one class-action lawsuit. Settlement discussions remain ongoing, with a Supreme Court of British Columbia certification hearing slated for this month and a ruling expected for next year.
Ahead of Alberta are B.C., Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, which have similarly amended or moved to amend legislation to broaden their legal claims.
In August 2018, B.C. Introduced a class action on its behalf and on behalf of other governments on the opioid's addiction crisis.
On October 15, 2019, the Government of Alberta announced it would participate in B.C.’s proposed national class action and it would be introducing similar legislation.
That December 5, Alberta passed the Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act, 2019.