Quebec tables bill to sue drug companies for health-care costs linked to opioids

By Thomas Laberge, The Canadian Press

QUEBEC — The Quebec government has introduced a bill that would allow it to join a proposed class-action lawsuit against more than 40 pharmaceutical companies and retailers accused of downplaying the harmful effects of opioids. 

Quebec’s bill, introduced Thursday, would permit the province to sue opioid makers, wholesalers and consultants for health-care costs resulting from their alleged failure to warn the public of the risks associated with their drugs. The legislation also grants Quebec the ability to join lawsuits launched by other provinces.

“The opioid crisis is hitting hard in Quebec,” Lionel Carmant, minister responsible for social services, told reporters in Quebec City after he tabled the bill. “Today, we’re seeing more and more people affected, particularly in Montreal. It’s very concerning.”

The class-action lawsuit application, launched in 2018 by the British Columbia government on behalf of the federal government and the provinces and territories, alleges that drug makers misrepresented the risk of opioid addiction and failed to mention side effects and withdrawal symptoms. It seeks damages from drug makers, including Johnson & Johnson and Bristol-Myers Squibb, as well as pharmacy companies, like Jean Coutu and Loblaw.

“The actions of these manufacturers and distributors led, among other things, to the death and the hospitalization of thousands of Canadians as a result of overdoses,” Carmant said. 

It’s still too early to say how much money Quebec would receive if the suit is successful, he said.

Last year, B.C. settled with Purdue Pharma — maker of OxyContin — for $150 million, an agreement that included the federal government as well as the other provinces and territories.

Frédéric Maheux, head of litigation at the Quebec attorney general’s office, told the news conference that during the Purdue settlement process, Canada-wide damages from opioids were estimated at $85 billion.  

The B.C. government launched the proposed lawsuit after it adopted a bill that made it easier for it to sue drug companies for opioid-related damages, and to bring class actions on behalf of other provinces and the federal government.

Quebec is the only province that has not yet adopted a law allowing it to join lawsuits launched by other governments in Canada, neither have Yukon or Nunavut.

The B.C. class action application must still be certified by a judge before it can move forward; four weeks of certification hearings are scheduled to begin Nov. 27.

There were more than 38,000 deaths linked to opioid toxicity in Canada between January 2016 and March 2023.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 5, 2023.

Thomas Laberge, The Canadian Press

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