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Alberta the third province to join B.C.-led opioid lawsuit
EDMONTON -- Legislation introduced on Thursday will make it possible for Alberta to join a proposed lawsuit led by British Columbia to recoup healthcare costs related to the opioid crisis.
Alberta announced earlier in the month it would be joining the lawsuit, which seeks costs from manufacturers and distributors dating back to 1996, when OxyContin was introduced in the Canadian market.
B.C. filed the proposed class-action suit a year ago, alleging drug manufacturers falsely marketed opioids as less addictive than other pain drugs, helping to trigger a crisis that has killed thousands.
"That marketing led to the over-prescription of highly addictive opioid medications and the companies continue to oversupply," Health Ministry Tyler Shandro said on Thursday, announcing the Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act.
The act enables the government to recover the health care costs for the entire province if it wins the lawsuit, regardless of when the damages happened.
None of the allegations have been tested in court.
The lawsuit enables provinces to establish causation and quantify dmages or health care costs with statistical data.
According to Shandro, the opioid crisis has cost Alberta $52 million this year.
"We will reinvest any damages awarded back into our healthcare system," he said.
The bill will likely be supported by the Official Opposition, the Official Opposition's mental health and addictions critic told CTV News Edmonton.
"We had started action already when we were in government and so as long as the bill is aligned with what we were doing, we will be supporting it," the NDP's Heather Sweet said.
"It is important that we address the opioid crisis in this province."
B.C. filed the suit on behalf of all provinces, territories, and the federal government.
So far, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador have also publicly announced their governments will be joining.
"Certainly you can achieve some economies of scale as more provinces get involved with this. They can share expertise. They can share strategy," commented Lorian Hardcastle, assistant professor in the University of Calgary's faculty of law.
But the health law expert said no matter how many provinces join, they shouldn't expect a payout soon.
"I think if the very similar litigation against tobacco companies is any indication, this payout could be decades away," Hardcastle said.
She also pointed out some companies may not be able to pay. Opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma, for example, filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.
In Alberta, an average of two people die from opioid overdoses each day.
Data in May showed overdose deaths climbed every year since Alberta Health Services started collecting data in 2016: from 553 in 2016, to 706 in 2017, to 746 last year.
In Edmonton and Calgary, overdose deaths numbered 165 and 289, respectively, in 2018.
With a report from CTV Edmonton's Nicole Weisberg and The Canadian Press