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Sault urged to join lawsuit against opioid makers, distributors

Two city councillors say those who made billions from the opioid crisis should help pay the city's costs for responding to it
The Civic Centre is pictured in this aerial photo. Zack Trunzo/Village Media

Ward 5 Coun. Corey Gardi and his Ward 2 counterpart Luke Dufour want the city to consider joining a $10-billion class-action lawsuit against 40 manufacturers and distributors of pharmaceutical opioids.

The councillors say Sault Ste. Marie and other Canadian municipalities have been forced to spend many millions of dollars for police, ambulance and fire service calls to opioid overdoses, resulting in deaths and increased homelessness.

"For years, drug companies that manufactured prescription opioids participated in an extensive marketing campaign to expand the market for opioids and their own market share," Christian and Dufour charge in a resolution to be presented to City Council on Monday.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors have made billions from the opioid trade and should help pay for the resulting crisis, the resolution says.

"Sault Ste. Marie has seen a rise in the toll taken on its citizens, including a significant rise in opioid-related deaths," the councillors say.

They're asking the city to consider joining a class action filed last year by Calgary-based Guardian Law Group LLP, with assistance from Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, a New York-based law firm that won a $260-million settlement in 2019 with three opioid distributors and one manufacturer on behalf of an Ohio county.

The City of Grande Prairie signed on in 2020 as the Alberta representative plaintiff.

"Participating in this class action lawsuit is a logical continuation in our community’s response to the opioid crisis,” Mayor Bill Given said as the action was filed. 

“Each one of us in Grande Prairie has been impacted in some form by the opioid crisis, and we can recognize the very real human cost the issue has. It also has a very real financial toll in the form of increased costs for local governments in areas ranging from policing and emergency response services, to social programs needed to address treatment and prevention and even into less expected operational areas such as parks and transit operations."

“This lawsuit allows us to take action on behalf of all municipalities and hold these companies, and not local taxpayers, responsible for the costs incurred in our community due to the opioid crisis. We look forward to other Canadian communities joining this suit,” Mayor Given said.

Last fall, Brantford, Ont. agreed to be a second, Ontario-based representative plaintiff in the legal action.

The City of Sault Ste. Marie would not need to take any steps to become involved until a representative case is determined and the class action is certified, probably two or three years from now.

At that point, all municipalities would be given an opportunity to opt out of the lawsuit if they felt they had been disproportionately affected by the opioid crisis.

If Sault Ste. Marie didn't opt out, it would automatically be included in the action and would receive a share of any settlement proceeds.

Class actions rarely go to trial.

They are usually settled after certification.

Monday's City Council meeting will be livestreamed on SooToday starting at 4:30 p.m.

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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