Quebec class action authorized against 16 pharma companies for role in opioid crisis

A class-action lawsuit has been authorized to proceed against 16 pharmaceutical companies for their role in manufacturing, selling, marketing and distributing opioid drugs in Quebec.

The lawsuit covers people who have been diagnosed with opioid use disorder since 1996, and their direct heirs if they are deceased.

That means there could be thousands of people in the province who could join the case, said Margo Siminovitch, with the Montreal-based firm Fishman Flanz Meland Paquin (FFMP). 

“This was an important case to take on for our firm to really try to get justice for people harmed by the pharmaceutical industry who made millions of dollars off this medicine while downplaying the risks of opioids,” said Siminovitch.

Her firm is joining forces with Trudel Johnston and Lespérance, also based in Montreal, to pursue this case on behalf of a man from the Laurentians, Jean-François Bourassa.

“He has been through a lot,” Siminovitch said, and it all started with a bad fall at work.

He had a roofing company. He was in his 30s when he was working on a roof, slipped on some ice, fell and broke an ankle and leg. He was put on opioids for acute pain while at hospital, Siminovitch said.

Margo Siminovitch, with the Montreal-based firm Fishman Flanz Meland Paquin, is one of the lawyers pursuing the class-action lawsuit. (CBC)

He was released from hospital, went to a clinic for the pain and his opioid dose was increased, she said. He was then on them for a decade, and became extremely addicted, affecting his career and home life, she said. 

“He thinks he was not able to be there for his young family,” Siminovitch said. “He was only able to work very intermittently. He eventually went on disability and couldn’t work at all.”

He was diagnosed with severe opioid use disorder — a condition where people use the drugs compulsively even if they want to stop.

$30K per plaintiff, $25M from each defendant 

The plaintiff is demanding $30,000 in damages for each member of the class action and for each defendant to pay $25 million.

Among the pharmaceutical companies named are Sanofi Canada, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer Canada.

The lawsuit excludes those who took Oxycontin and Oxyneo and also those who used an opioid drug that was only available in a hospital setting and not prescribed for use at home.

In a news release, FFMP lawyer Mark Meland said the court’s authorization of this lawsuit creates a vehicle for victims, “whose lives have been devastated by the use of prescription opioids, to seek and obtain rightful compensation for the harms caused to them by the pharmaceutical companies who produced and supplied these dangerous drugs.”

Revisiting how drugs were prescribed

David Juurlink, head of the division of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences in Toronto, said it’s time to look at how those drugs were prescribed.

A person may have needed the drug only three to five days after a surgery, but were prescribed enough to last two or three weeks, he said.

Doctors across North America were taught to increase the dose of somebody who was developing tolerance to the drugs and still experiencing pain, he said.

Looking back to 30 years ago, the potential for severe dependance on opioids wasn’t realized, he said, and now people are suffering from addiction.

“It can be very difficult to stop,” he said. “There are millions of people on opioids right now that can’t come off of them.”

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