The B.C. government goes up against dozens of health care and pharmaceutical companies in court Monday (Nov. 27) in a bid to get certification for a class-action lawsuit over the costs of the opioid crisis.
It comes even after the Supreme Court of Canada agreed this month to hear a constitutional challenge by four of the companies who say a law allowing B.C. to recover costs on behalf of other governments is an overreach. Those companies then went back to the Supreme Court of B.C. to seek a delay of the certification hearing while the high court rules, but the judge said an adjournment wasn’t in the interests of justice.
B.C. says it is bringing the class action on behalf of all the provinces and territories as well as the federal government. Speaking outside the Vancouver courthouse on Monday, Attorney General Niki Sharma said the sweeping approach is the first of its kind in Canada and is intended to bring justice as quickly as possible.
Sharma said they don’t yet have an estimate on the dollar figure they’ll be demanding from the pharmaceutical companies if the class action is certified, but that it will be “pretty substantial.”
In 2022, a B.C.-led lawsuit resulted in a $150-million settlement from Purdue Pharma. That payout drew some criticism from people who said the amount would do little to solve B.C.’s toxic drug crisis.
In the U.S., by comparison, Purdue Pharma is facing a payout of up to $6 billion, if a pending bankruptcy settlement goes through.
Sharma said any money they do receive will be invested in programs and services related to the toxic drug crisis. The class action is specifically seeking to recover costs governments incurred from the added burden on their health care systems. It does not seek to recover costs incurred by those who have become addicted to substances, or family members who have lost loved ones to the crisis.
More than 13,000 people have died of overdoses in the province since B.C. declared the crisis a public health emergency in April 2016.
It began its legal odyssey in August 2018 by passing the Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act, seeking costs from firms alleged to have contributed to opioid addiction.
The certification hearing is expected to last about four weeks and a civil trial would then have to be held to determine if the companies are liable for damages.