A group of academics has sent an open letter to the Attorney General of Canada and the federal Minister of Health calling for an investigation into opioid manufacturers to see whether they broke any Canadian laws in marketing the drugs here.
“The Government of Canada recognizes that an opioid crisis is killing thousands of Canadians each year and that aggressive marketing of opioid products is one important cause of the crisis,” says the letter, sent Friday, and signed by seven doctors, researchers and lawyers.
The letter calls for the federal government to probe the marketing of opioids in Canada and to “directly compensate victims of the opioid crisis with funds recovered from opioid manufacturers with new legislation.”
“Similar legislation is in place for tobacco companies and the victims of their inappropriate marketing practices,” the letter adds.
Canada is the world’s second-highest per-capita user of prescription painkillers behind the United States, according to the International Narcotics Control Board, which tracks countries’ prescribing levels. In December, the Public Health Agency of Canada said the number of opioid-related fatalities was expected to exceed 4,000 for 2017.
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In 2007 in the United States, Purdue Pharma paid $ 634.5 million (U.S.) to settle criminal and civil charges for alleging that OxyContin was less addictive than other pain medications. In Canada, victims have pursued a civil suit, and the company has a proposed settlement for $ 20 million with $ 2 million going to the provinces and territories.
Dr. David Juurlink, a researcher at Sunnybrook Research Institute and a professor at the University of Toronto, and one of the signatories of the open letter, said in an interview Saturday the group is not suggesting Purdue Pharma (Canada) has engaged in illegal tactics, “but we think that the possibility needs to be examined in a systematic way in the courts.”
“Our observation is not a particularly deep one, but we have seen on both sides of the border, a massive increase of prescribing of opioids, a massive increase in opioid-related deaths, a massive increase in addictions, and it is somewhat difficult to imagine that the tactics truly stopped at the border,” Juurlink said.
In response to the open letter, a Purdue Pharma (Canada) spokesperson said via email Saturday that the Canadian operation runs independently from the U.S. company, and that their products and marketing have been compliant with government regulations.
“Purdue Pharma (Canada) has always marketed its products in line with the Health Canada approved product monograph and in compliance with all relevant rules, regulations and codes, including the Food and Drugs Act and the Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board Code,” the email statement said.
“This complex public health issue is a matter of deep concern to Purdue Pharma (Canada),” the statement added. “All stakeholders, including the pharmaceutical industry, have a role to play in providing practical and sustainable solutions … Purdue Pharma (Canada) supports a research-driven approach to managing pain that may or may not include available prescription products, in combination with other effective pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments.”
In regards to the Canadian class action suit, the Purdue Pharma (Canada) statement said the “complaints stem from marketing activities that allegedly occurred primarily between 1996 and 2001.
“To date, courts in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Quebec have approved the settlement as fair and reasonable and the settlement has not been approved in Saskatchewan. We are considering next steps. Purdue Pharma (Canada) has made no admissions of liability,” the company’s statement added.
Juurlink and the other signatories do not see their request for an investigation as a “magic bullet” in solving the opioid crisis, as it is a multi-faceted problem, but the hope is that any potential funds that come as a result could help victims.
February’s federal budget earmarked $ 231 million for dealing with the opioid crisis, including improving access to treatment.