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Canadians who got addicted to the powerful painkillers OxyContin and OxyNEO have reached a $20-million settlement with the drug’s maker.
To qualify for a piece of the settlement, people must have been prescribed the medications between Jan. 1, 1996, and Feb. 28, 2017.
They won’t see a huge payday.
“It’s not a lot of money, but it’s something. Something is better than nothing,” said Halifax lawyer Ray Wagner, whose firm has been working on the case since 2007.
He doubts individual payments will change many lives in a significant way.
“But it will change the lives of some individuals. It will give them an anchor – some money, it may be in the thousands of dollars, not in the tens of thousands of dollars, that they can hopefully use to bring some joy into their life.”
The settlement won’t compensate them “for their true losses,” he said.
“But that’s the nature of class actions; it’s rough justice.”
Law firms across the country have been contacted about 6,400 times by people who want to be part of the settlement.
Lots of them lost their families and their homes after becoming addicted to the drugs, Wagner said.
“The carnage from this is unbelievable,” he said.
Purdue Pharma pulled OxyContin from the market in 2012 as questions mounted about the drug’s role in the opioid crisis, replacing it with a new version called OxyNEO, which is designed to be harder to tamper with so users can experience a euphoric high.
The settlement announced Friday doesn’t apply to street or recreational users.
The money will be doled out based on a points system.
“You get points, for instance, if they were incarcerated as a result of the use,” Wagner said, noting divorce, impaired driving and job losses attributed to the drugs will also be factored into the system.
“There are all kinds of things that have happened – unfortunate ugly stuff – to a whole host of individuals.”
The settlement is with Purdue Canada.
The drug-maker denies allegations made in the class-action lawsuits across the country that prompted the settlement.
“If there’s a settlement, they never admit liability,” Wagner said. “But if they pay you $20 million, that tells you something.”
The drugs were promoted for short-term use and patients were told they wouldn’t develop a tolerance for them, Wagner said.
“People became addicted to it and the more they used it, the more tolerant they became,” he said.
Some people could wean themselves off the drug, Wagner said. “But a lot of people couldn’t.”
Purdue Canada sponsored conferences for doctors where they promoted the painkillers, he said.
“They went so far as going to medical schools and giving lectures to (University of Toronto), Dalhousie, other medical schools across the country, to promote to the students and the soon-to-be residents the advantages of OxyContin as a frontline way to address and treat pain,” Wagner said.
Indigenous communities and parts of Cape Breton were particularly hard-hit by addictions to the legally prescribed drug, he said.
“New Waterford and area was referred to as Cottonland, there was so much OxyContin prescribed by medical practitioners.”
The settlement was approved by the Nova Scotia courts in 2017. But it was held up by Purdue Pharma filing for bankruptcy protection in the U.S.
Delays in the Saskatchewan portion of the case and “a big dust-up with the provinces,” which will get $2 million from the settlement to cover health-care costs related to the painkillers, also slowed things considerably, Wagner said, noting the provinces also settled recently with Purdue in a separate case for $150 million to cover health-care costs linked to OxyContin and OxyNEO.
Wagners Law Firm was one of the four main outfits across the country representing victims.
Lawyers will get almost $6.4 million of the $20-million settlement to cover $4.65 million in fees, $637,640 in interest, just under $537,050 in disbursements, and taxes.
“It took a hell of a lot of work,” Wagner said. “Well past the time that we’re being compensated (for) by a large margin. But we stuck it out, and that’s what we do. We don’t give up.”
To qualify for part of the settlement, people should contact RicePoint Administration Inc. before Feb. 27, 2024. The claims administrator can be reached via email at [email protected], or by phone at 1-888-663-7185.