The harms to individuals, health-care systems and society from Canada’s opioid crisis are so grave that some physicians and lawyers are calling for criminal prosecution of OxyContin’s drugmaker.
As part of a Canada-wide settlement announced in May following a class-action lawsuit, Purdue Pharma (Canada) agreed to pay $20 million — including $2 million to provincial health plans — over how the company marketed and sold its pain medications OxyContin and OxyNEO.
A court hearing in Nova Scotia is scheduled Tuesday to approve a settlement for claimants in that province, while Ontario’s claimants finalized it earlier this month. Judges in Quebec and Saskatchewan are scheduled to make similar decisions in August.
Canada lost an estimated 2,458 people to opioid-related death in 2016, government data says, and doctors estimate the country could see another 3,000 deaths this year.
It’s unclear how provinces could recover any additional costs to their health-care systems, said Matthew Herder, a law professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
“There may be a concern on the part of provincial governments that this would be a long, costly and uncertain legal battle. However, at same time, evidence seems fairly clear from an outsider point of view that there was some exaggerated claims about this particular drug and how safe it was.”
It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the deal is “inadequate,” Herder said, given that the company profited more than $30 billion from OxyContin.
In 2007, three executives with the U.S. branch of Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty in a U.S. Federal Court to misleading regulators, physicians and the public about the risk of addiction to OxyContin.
While whistleblowers in the U.S. can provide evidence of misleading or deception in the marketing of a drug, Herder said Canada lacks such a law. But under Canada’s Food and Drugs Act, the federal government could seek jail time.
“The monetary penalties for violating that act are fairly limited,” Herder said. “I would say, however, that there is a penalty that could lead to imprisonment for false or deceptive marketing practices around a drug.
“Perhaps it’s worthwhile to send a strong message that this kind of promotional activity is not going to be tolerated to think seriously about using that criminal provision.”
Dr. Kieran Moore,…