Canada pushed to take federal action against Purdue over OxyContin marketing

Canada's federal government is being pushed to take legal action against Purdue Pharma for the marketing of its highly addictive painkiller OxyContin.

Purdue Pharma, which has been fending off lawsuits by cities and states in the U.S. over the marketing of its powerful painkiller OxyContin, may have to face off against Canada’s federal government.

Canada’s Minister of Health Jane Philpott is being urged to hold the U.S. drugmaker accountable for “any inappropriate or potentially illegal activities in the marketing of OxyContin in Canada,” reads a letter from Ontario's Minister of Health Eric Hoskins, M.D., the Globe and Mail reports.

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Hoskins suggests the federal government pursue the U.S. drugmaker under Canada’s Food and Drugs Act, which he points out prohibits using false marketing to sell a drug. The newspaper says Canada has the second highest per capita use of prescription painkillers in the world. Philpott has said the government is weighing its options for dealing with the opioid crisis. 

Any lawsuit by the federal government could be complicated by the recent $20 million settlement of a civil class action lawsuit by patients who accused Purdue of not laying out the risks of addiction from OxyContin, the newspaper said. That is because about $2 million of the settlement money was designated for Canadian provinces and territories that joined the lawsuit.

“If the settlement is approved, there is an argument to be made by Purdue that the compensation question has been resolved in the $20 million settlement,” Ray Wagner, one of the attorneys for the patients, told the Globe and Mail.  

A decade ago, Purdue pleaded guilty to a federal charge in the U.S. and paid $635 million for fraudulently misbranding OxyContin by suggesting it was less addictive and less abused than other painkillers. Three top execs pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges. In 2012, as its patent was expiring, Purdue took OxyContin off the market, but generics have flooded the market since.

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That was more the beginning than the end to the company's legal run-ins over the drug. Since then, Chicago, counties in California and New York, as well as the states of Illinois, New Hampshire and Ohio have gone after Purdue and other opioid makers, blaming them for contributing to an opioid addiction and overdose epidemic in the U.S. and seeking to have them repay some of what it has cost jurisdictions to treat residents and counter its effects.

Several years ago, the CDC and then the FDA changed prescribing recommendations for opioids, calling for more limited use and use of alternative pain therapies for patients. The FDA has gotten more aggressive under new Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

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Earlier this month, opioidmaker Endo agreed to pull Opana ER from the market after the FDA warned it would take legal action against Endo if it didn’t remove the drug. An FDA advisory committee had recommended its removal, saying the benefits of the drug do not outweigh its risks for addiction.