Nova Scotia judge signs off on OxyContin class-action settlement

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A Nova Scotia judge has approved a settlement in the class-action lawsuit related to OxyContin, even as two people affected by addiction to the painkiller told the court Tuesday they were unhappy with the deal struck with the drug manufacturer.

The approval means Nova Scotia has become the second of four Canadian jurisdictions to agree to the settlement. The class action against Purdue Pharma (Canada) relates to allegations surrounding how it marketed and sold OxyContin and OxyNEO.

The settlement only applies to people who became addicted after they were prescribed the painkillers by a doctor. It does not cover those who are part of the larger opioid crisis in Canada.

The settlement is worth $20 million, $2 million of which will go to provincial health departments. The remainder will be split among claimants, less about $4.5 million in legal fees.

In agreeing to the settlement, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice John Murphy said, “There’s no way that a monetary settlement can make parties whole again.”

Halifax Law Courts building

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge approved the settlement Tuesday. (Robert Short/CBC)

Murphy also noted it was somewhat unusual that the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, Ray Wagner, outlined the challenges they would have faced had the class action proceeded to trial.

Those included a vigorous defence by Purdue, which manufactured both OxyContin and OxyNEO. Wagner said litigation would have delayed any settlement for people who suffered from exposure to the drugs, as the case likely would have taken years to make its way through the court.

Lawyers for Purdue were in court, but offered no comment during the hearing. Purdue has said it does not admit any liability.

An Ontario judge has already signed off on the settlement. Courts in Quebec and Saskatchewan will consider the matter later this month. Those four hearings will cover claimants across the country. If either of the two courts yet to hear the case reject the settlement, it is dead.

Ray Wagner

Ray Wagner is the Halifax lawyer who launched the class action. (Blair Rhodes/CBC)

Wagner estimated between 1,500 and 3,000 Canadians could claim a share of the settlement, once it’s approved nationwide. Each would be entitled to anywhere from $13,000 to $17,000, on average, Wagner said. However, he acknowledged some payouts could be much lower.

Wagner told the judge there are several factors that will determine the size of any compensation. They include whether the claimant suffered an overdose, whether they lost employment for more than six months, lost custody of their children, lost a professional licence, had a criminal conviction, were homeless for more than a week or declared bankruptcy as a result of their addiction.

Wagner said each factor will be assigned points to help calculate any payout. Wagner said if the final two jurisdictions approve the settlement, the process for disbursing funds could begin next month.

Opposition to settlement

Two people travelled from New Brunswick to Halifax to voice their opposition to the settlement Tuesday.

Adam Spencer said he became addicted OxyContin after he was prescribed the painkiller to cope with a workplace injury.

“These pills take your soul away, take your heart away,” Spencer told the court.

He said he’s lost his job, his wife, his home and his kids as a result of his addiction. He said he only took the painkiller because of assurances it wasn’t addictive.

“If I would have been told that these pills were addictive, I would have never, ever put it in my mouth,” he said.

Spencer said he wants enough money to go to a treatment facility to help wean him off the drug. He said the addiction treatment he’s received in New Brunswick has been inadequate.

‘It was like living with a different person’

Jayne Turner made the trip from Grand Manan, N.B., to protest the fact Purdue has not admitted liability nor offered an apology for what its products have done.

She said her husband, John Turner, was part of a back pain study run by Purdue and he changed when he started taking OxyContin.

“It was like living with a different person,” she said. “He was much more argumentative.”

She said one of the changes brought on by the painkiller was that he would often fall asleep. John Turner died when he apparently fell asleep and fell overboard from his fishing boat.

His wife told court that while the cause of death was listed as drowning, the medical examiner also found fatal levels of oxycodone in his blood.

“I think the thing that bothers me most is that there doesn’t have to be any admission of guilt,” she said of the settlement.

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Nova Scotia judge signs off on OxyContin class-action settlement

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