Canadian province to sue drug companies over opioids

The Canadian province of British Columbia launched a proposed class-action lawsuit Wednesday against dozens of pharmaceutical companies, alleging they falsely marketed opioids as less addictive than other pain drugs and helped trigger an overdose crisis that has killed thousands.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind in Canada and names OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma Inc. and other major drug manufacturers. It also targets pharmacies, including Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. and its owner Loblaw Companies Ltd., claiming they should have known the quantities of opioids they were distributing exceeded any legitimate market.

Nearly 4,000 Canadians died from apparent opioid overdoses last year, while B.C. remained the province hardest hit by the opioid crisis, with 1,399 deaths, up from 974 in 2016, according to Statistics Canada. The province declared a public health emergency in 2016.

"Today, another three or four people will die from an overdose in British Columbia," said Judy Darcy, the province's minister of mental health and addictions.

In the U.S., drug makers are facing hundreds of lawsuits from governments alleging the companies played a role in sparking opioid addiction and an overdose crisis that killed 42,000 Americans in 2016.

Most of the companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.