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A Conservative government would sue pharma companies over opioid crisis, Poilievre says

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre speaks during a news conference in New Westminster, B.C., on Tuesday, March 14, 2023.  (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck - image credit)
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre speaks during a news conference in New Westminster, B.C., on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck - image credit)

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said Tuesday that a federal government led by him would sue the biggest pharmaceutical companies to recover federal dollars spent on the opioid crisis.

"The opioid epidemic has ravaged our communities, destroyed lives and devastated families. We must demand justice for the victims of addiction," Poilievre said in a media statement.

The proposed lawsuit, he said, would look to recover federal health-care costs associated with the drug crisis, including "border security, courts, the criminal justice system, Indigenous programs, lost federal tax revenue and massively expanded treatment programs."

At a press conference in New Westminster, B.C., Poilievre said a Conservative government would also join a B.C.-led class-action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and their consultants.

The Conservative Party says the two lawsuits would claim $44 billion in federal dollars spent on health-care and in lost tax revenue. It says money recovered would go to treatment and recovery programs for those struggling with addiction.

The B.C.-led class-action lawsuit, filed in 2018, targets over 40 drug manufacturers and retailers in an effort to recover costs from the drug crisis, which has caused thousands of deaths in the province.

The lawsuit alleges that pharmaceutical companies, distributors and consultants engaged in "deceptive marketing practices" to increase drug sales, resulting in a wave of addictions and overdose deaths.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

In June 2022, Purdue Pharma Canada, a drug company which has been widely accused of fuelling the opioid epidemic through deceptive marketing of their product Oxycontin, agreed to a proposed settlement of $150 million with B.C. on behalf of all provinces and territories.

The allegations made by the province against Purdue Pharma Canada have not been proven in court.

Amendments to the lawsuit, introduced in October 2022, have given the federal government the option to join the lawsuit and for more defendants to be named, including directors and officers of pharmaceutical companies.

Poilievre has been critical of the Trudeau government's handling of the opioid crisis, particularly federal funding of safe supply programs. He also has attacked its relationship with consulting firm McKinsey, which settled a $600 million lawsuit in the United States over its role in the opioid crisis.

Under a three-year federal government pilot program, it is no longer a criminal offence for people aged 18 and over to possess small amounts of certain illicit drugs in B.C.

While this is meant to minimize harm to drug users, Poilievre said he does not believe decriminalization is a solution.

"We need to give people the hope for a drug-free life by putting resources into recovery and treatment programs," he said.