TORONTO - The Ontario government says it plans to join British Columbia's proposed class-action lawsuit against dozens of opioid manufacturers.
The province introduced legislation Monday, that if passed, would enable Ontario's participation in the suit launched late last year.
Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said Ontario would invest any potential awards won from the litigation into front-line mental health and addiction services.
"Ontario has witnessed a major increase in opioid-related deaths, hospitalizations and emergency room visits over the last decade," she said. "In simple terms, it's a crisis."
British Columbia filed the proposed class action against dozens of pharmaceutical companies in a bid to recoup the health-care costs associated with opioid addiction.
The untested suit alleges the companies falsely marketed opioids as less addictive than other pain drugs and helped trigger an overdose crisis that has killed thousands since OxyContin was introduced to the Canadian market in 1996.
It names the maker of OxyContin — Purdue Pharma Inc. — as well as other major drug manufacturers, and 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.
Statements of defence have not been filed and none of the allegations contained in the civil claim has been proven in court.
"Purdue Pharma (Canada) is deeply concerned about the opioids crisis, in British Columbia, and right across Canada,'' the company said in a statement after the B.C. filed the lawsuit last summer.
"The opioids crisis is a complex and multi-faceted public health issue that involves both prescription opioids and, increasingly, illegally produced and consumed opioids, as indicated in Health Canada's latest quarterly monitoring report. All stakeholders, including the pharmaceutical industry, have a role to play in providing practical and sustainable solutions.''
In a separate Ontario case launched earlier this month, lawyers representing patients who became addicted to opioids filed a statement of claim seeking more than $1.1 billion in various damages from nearly two dozen companies.
That suit alleges the companies were negligent in how they researched, developed and marketed opioids starting in the 1990s.
Mulroney could not say how much money the province has spent grappling with the opioid crisis but said it was a substantial sum.
"It will allow us to take further action to battle the ongoing opioid crisis and hold manufacturers and wholesalers accountable for their roles in this crisis," she said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said while it's important to hold companies accountable for any alleged wrongdoing, the province needs to invest in addictions treatment services now.
"We can't wait until the end of some long, protracted class-action suit before we start taking care of people," she said.