The thinking behind this is that because of our reasoning ability, we can analyze the mistakes we have made in the past, learn what we did wrong and either come up with new solutions or avoid doing the things that led to the mistake in the first place.
When it comes to how our governments have chosen to deal with pharmaceutical companies that have misled consumers, thereby creating a vicious addiction crisis, I am forced to question whether we really have the capacity to learn from our mistakes.
When I read the news that this province, along with P.E.I. and New Brunswick, spent $52 million on opioid prescriptions in the five years between 2010 and 2015, it was an eye-opening figure. But it didn’t come as a big surprise as I have become all too aware of the scope of the opioid crisis in this province.
What had me scratching my head in bewilderment and seething with anger was the knowledge that at the same time, provincial governments from all across this country have now agreed to settle their part in a class-action lawsuit against the largest and most profitable opioid producer, Purdue Pharma, for the paltry amount of $20 million. This figure is absolutely shocking considering the billions in profits that this company has amassed through sales of OxyContin, and in agreeing to this settlement, provinces give up all rights in future to sue the company over this drug.
What I find even more egregious than the measly monetary amount of the settlement are the facts surrounding the introduction of OxyContin into the marketplace. When it was introduced, the company misleadingly told doctors who would be prescribing OxyContin that it was less addictive than other painkillers, a claim they knew to be untrue and which they admitted in the United States in 2007 by paying over half a billion to settle criminal and civil charges.
As part of the settlement here in Canada, Purdue Pharma does not have to admit liability for the effects of the drug or even admit that there’s a problem. This fact alone is particularly galling, as those of us who have worked over the past 20 years with people affected by addiction can draw a clear parallel between the introduction of OxyContin and the subsequent explosion in opioid addiction which has devastated families and continues to ravage people today.
Part of the problem is that in Canada, drug regulation is a federal concern and the federal government has a history of taking a co-operative approach with drug companies; while this may be helpful in some areas, it has clearly failed when it comes to opioids, and a new approach is needed.
We should have been using our reasoning abilities and remembered the lessons from tobacco corporations who also sat on the knowledge that their product was harmful and continued to market it to consumers to make huge profits. We have been holding them to account yet we appear to be letting Purdue Pharma completely off the hook; it just doesn’t make any sense considering the harm that has been done by OxyContin.
Sadly, this harm is ongoing and will continue on into the future while the company behind the drug continues to profit from the major source of the problem. We continue to pay monetarily but, more importantly, we are paying a massive social cost as Canadian citizens who get caught up in addiction, as well as their families, friends, employers and communities, are severely impacted.
Basic reasoning should tell us that the ones mostly responsible for a problem should shoulder the most responsibility for fixing it. This is not happening in Canada. It’s time this changed and we started using our brains before more Canadian brains become affected by this epidemic.
Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.