Poilievre pledges $44 billion lawsuit against 'Big Pharma' on behalf of 'victims of addiction'

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre pledged to sue the pharmaceutical industry Tuesday to fund drug treatment if elected prime minister; however, he remained hushed on supervised consumption sites.

Poilievre pledges $44 billion lawsuit against 'Big Pharma' on behalf of 'victims of addiction'
The Canadian Press / Justin Tang
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"After 8 years of Justin Trudeau, Canadians are suffering. We will turn hurt into hope, and we will bring home justice for Canadians," claimed Poilievre during a campaign stop in Metro Vancouver — an epicentre for the opioid crisis he previously called "hell on earth."

Since 2016, 32,000 Canadians have died from opioid-related deaths, and a further 33,000 Canadians have been hospitalized, according to Poilievre.

"The NDP-Liberal approach has failed. It has put more drugs on our streets, leading to more addictions, deaths and despair," claimed the Tory leader.

Poilievre also blamed BC's provincial government for contributing to the problem.

Health Canada granted the province a subsection 56(1) exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize the use of small amounts of hard drugs. 

The province's three-year program began Tuesday and permitted residents over 18 to have 2.5 grams of heroin, crack, cocaine, fentanyl, MDMA, and meth on hand.

Poilievre panned such measures as being part of a "failed experiment."

During a video on harm reduction filmed in front of a tent encampment in Vancouver last November, the Tory leader posed a question that would become the centrepiece of his Conservative message: "Do you ever feel like everything's broken in Canada?"

Poilievre pledged to end the provision of a safer supply of drugs and disallow decriminalization.

Despite earning swift condemnation from political opponents and drug policy experts, who claim the measure mitigates a toxic drug supply that has led to thousands of preventable overdoses and deaths, Poilievre reiterated his position on Tuesday.

"I don't believe in flooding our communities with more and more taxpayer-funded drugs," he said.

Instead, the Tory leader said a Conservative government would focus on providing users with more recovery and treatment options.

He also believes in distributing medications that ease the symptoms of drug withdrawal and overdose antidotes, such as naloxone.

However, to pay for those, Poilievre would launch a $44 billion lawsuit against the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the prescription drugs causing grief to Canadians suffering from addiction. 

"Those programs are going to cost a lot of money. It's worth the money, but who should pay?"

In a breakdown of the prospective suit, Poilievre said it would cover the federal share of estimated healthcare costs ($3.9 billion), federal money spent on the opioid crisis ($3.0 billion), federal criminal justice system costs ($10.2 billion) and lost tax revenue ($27 billion).

Money recovered from this massive lawsuit will fund treatment and recovery programs for people struggling with addiction. 

"We will ensure that all Canadians can access treatment and recovery programs," said Poilievre.

"As Canada suffers an opioid epidemic, Trudeau has refused to stand up to the greedy pharmaceutical companies who cynically marketed addictive drugs as pain medication."

"The opioid crisis originated with the invention of Oxycontin by Purdue Pharma in 1995. Oxycontin was aggressively promoted and overprescribed, leading to a massive increase in opioid dependency," continued the Tory leader.

Controversial firm McKinsey and Company advised the pharmaceutical industry to get their customers addicted, according to the CPC, urging them to offer bonuses and rebates to sellers based on the number of drug overdoses in their areas. 

"All this occurred while Justin Trudeau's friend, Dominic Barton, was their managing partner," claimed Poilievre. "Opioid prescriptions were handed out for anything and everything, with no sense of the risks."

"The opioid epidemic has ravaged our communities, destroyed lives, and devastated families," he added. "We must demand justice for the victims of addiction."

Poilievre said that a Conservative government would also participate as a plaintiff in BC's existing class-action lawsuit against the industry during his speech in Vancouver.

BC launched a class-action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors for the costs to Canada's healthcare system. Still, the federal government has not yet announced whether it will join these lawsuits.

Trudeau's Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos faces damning allegations that he delayed pharmaceutical pricing reforms intended to bring down the price of patented drugs, which he categorically denies.

Duclos and associate assistant health deputy minister Eric Bélair drafted letters to the Patented Medicines Price Review Board (PMPRB) last year asking the body to suspend consultations on proposed pricing guidelines. 

A PMPRB executive, who has since resigned, accused them of delaying new regulations four times at the recommendation of the pharmaceutical industry.

The federal government contends that drugs at the median cost across 11 countries would have saved Canadians $2.8 billion in 2018.

Asked Tuesday whether he intends to alter the current rules around supervised consumption sites, Poilievre only said, "the existing overall system has failed."

The federal government currently funds safe supply programs at 20 centres nationwide, which typically offer services such as drug testing and clean needles. 

Federal Conservatives have had long-standing concerns over such sites. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper took issue with their expansion during his time in office, citing their perceived effect on public safety.

In 2013, Harper's government ushered in legislation titled the "Respect for Communities Act," which stipulated that organizations looking to open such facilities had to meet strict criteria for their applications to be considered.

After the Liberals came to power in 2015, Trudeau's government passed a bill that reduced the criteria projects needed to meet to eight, down from 26. By 2020, Ottawa reported 39 such sites as operational.

These sites also help users connect with various support services, including housing assistance. Providers require a federal exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

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