Ottawa pushed to prosecute Purdue Pharma over ‘deceptive’ marketing of OxyContin

The harms to individuals, health-care systems and society from Canada’s opioid crisis are so grave that some physicians and lawyers are calling for criminal prosecution of OxyContin’s drugmaker.

As part of a Canada-wide settlement announced in May following a class-action lawsuit, Purdue Pharma (Canada) agreed to pay $20 million — including $2 million to provincial health plans — over how the company marketed and sold its pain medications OxyContin and OxyNEO.

A court hearing in Nova Scotia is scheduled Tuesday to approve a settlement for claimants in that province, while Ontario’s claimants agreed to it earlier this month. Judges in Quebec and Saskatchewan are scheduled to hear settlements in August.

Canada lost an estimated 2,458 people to opioid-related death in 2016, government data says, and doctors estimate the country could see another 3,000 deaths this year.

It’s unclear how provinces could recover any additional costs to their health-care systems, said Matthew Herder, a law professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

“There may be a concern on the part of provincial governments that this would be a long, costly and uncertain legal battle. However, at same time, evidence seems fairly clear from an outsider point of view that there was some exaggerated claims about this particular drug and how safe it was.”

It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the deal is “inadequate,” Herder said, given that the company profited more than $30 billion from OxyContin.

In 2007, three executives with the U.S. branch of Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty in a U.S. Federal Court to misleading regulators, physicians and the public about the risk of addiction to OxyContin.

Patients misled 

While whistleblowers in the U.S. can provide evidence of misleading or deception in the marketing of a drug, Herder said Canada lacks such a law. But under Canada’s Food and Drugs Act, the federal government could seek jail time.  

“The monetary penalties for violating that act are fairly limited,” Herder said. “I would say, however, that there is a penalty that could lead to imprisonment for false or deceptive marketing practices around a drug.

“Perhaps it’s worthwhile to send a strong message that this kind of promotional activity is not going to be tolerated to think seriously about using that criminal provision.”

Pain Pills

Doctors estimate Canada could lose about 3,000 people this year to opioid-related deaths. (Charles Williams )

Dr. Kieran Moore, a professor of emergency medicine at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., points out that it was 10 years ago that Purdue settled its civil and criminal suits in the U.S. for more than $600 million US.

“I’m sadly disappointed [by] the amount of money we’re able to recuperate from a company that has been found to mislead patients, our community and our physicians,” Moore said.

As an emergency room physician, Moore said he’s seen the devastating impact of what he calls the “opioid injury pyramid.” For every death, he said, there’s at least:

  • 10 associated addiction treatment admissions.
  • 32 emergency-room visits for withdrawal or other consequences of addiction.
  • 130 primary-care visits.

“To me, $20 million doesn’t scratch the surface of the societal costs of OxyContin, and we could name other opioid producers like they have in the United States as well,” Moore said.

Tobacco model

Moore also pointed to the example of Canadian lawsuits against tobacco firms, which are still before the courts.

For opioids, we should be considering the loss of potential years of life, he said. “The biggest killer from 24 to 35 [years of age] now; one in eight of our youth are dying from exposure to this class of drug.”

Federal leadership and prosecution is key, said Moore.

“We have to have an improvement in post-marketing surveillance in Canada, and we have to be able to identify if a drug is causing a health issue after it has been marketed to hundreds of thousands of individuals,” he said.

Post-market surveillance looks at the safety and efficacy of drugs already on the market; the anti-inflammatory Vioxx, for example, was pulled from shelves worldwide after it was found to be associated with heart issues in thousands of patients.

To follow the tobacco model, provincial governments would first need to create legal rights to seek damages from drugmakers, Herder said. Individuals could also seek action.

A shorter-term move could be for federal and provincial governments to work together to set up mass compensation scheme, similar to the one that thalidomide victims in Canada received decades after they were disabled by the drug. 

Purdue Pharma Canada has said resolving the class-action suit makes no admissions of liability.

Crown seeks probation for N.S. teens who shared nude photos of classmates

The Crown is recommending probation for six teenage males from Nova Scotia who collected and shared intimate images of their female classmates like “bartering chips or baseball cards.” 

The case is one of the largest in Canada involving youth under a relatively new law designed to combat the non-consensual sharing of intimate images.

All six males have admitted to distributing nude photos of at least 20 girls between the ages of 13 and 17 without their consent through an online Dropbox account. The males were students at Bridgewater Junior Senior High School at the time of the offences in 2015.

“They treated the victims’ sexual integrity as bartering chips or baseball cards that could then be traded and circulated amongst friends,” senior prosecutor Peter Dostal wrote in a brief addressed to Judge Paul B. Scovil of Bridgewater provincial court.

Sentencing was expected to take place Monday but was adjourned at the request of defence lawyers. The teens will now be sentenced Sept. 6.

None of the teens can be identified under Canada’s youth criminal justice laws.

‘Obvious’ psychological harm

The Crown is seeking probation for a period up to two years with limitations on contacting the victims.

Internet restrictions are also being proposed, such as limited access to data-storage devices, online video games and social media including the photo- and video-sharing app Snapchat.

Dostal argued in his brief that psychological harm is an “obvious consequence” for the victims in this case.

“There are the resulting negative feelings including embarrassment, humiliation and shame that arises from an awareness that others have observed the images,” he said.

False sense of control 

Dostal said the privacy of the victims was violated even before the images were uploaded to the file-sharing service.

“In many instances the victims did not even give any permission to save the images. The victims believed they were maintaining complete control over the images and that the recipients would only have a short peek at the contents before being deleted by Snapchat,” he said.

Snapchat images are typically deleted after 10 seconds. Dostal said the males got around that by saving screenshots or taking a picture with another device.

Victims were groomed, says Crown

The brief notes some of the males also shared intimate pictures of themselves with the victims. However, it emphasizes that the males are not victims in this case.

“We instead see the act of volunteering intimate photos to the females as a component to a grooming process, an attempt to comfort the females by normalizing their decision to disclose images and avoid the onset of regret after sending photos,” said Dostal.

“It should be noted that at no time did the victims pursue the young males for photos.”

Teens remorseful

The brief goes on to say the males showed genuine remorse while attending group counselling sessions known as restorative programming. Victims were invited to take part in the sessions but declined.

“The programming provided the accused with an opportunity to learn more about the consequences of their actions, show appreciation for their understanding of the harm committed and be confronted by members of the community affected by the actions,” said Dostal.

He added the males are considered “suitable candidates for rehabilitation” and are willing to take part in further programming.

“Considerable weight should be given to the efforts of all participants in this process,” he said.

Crown seeks probation for Bridgewater teens who shared nude photos

The Crown is recommending probation for six teenage males from Nova Scotia who collected and shared intimate images of their female classmates like “bartering chips or baseball cards.” 

The case is one of the largest in Canada involving youth under a relatively new law designed to combat the non-consensual sharing of intimate images.

All six males have admitted to distributing nude photos of at least 20 girls between the ages of 13 and 17 without their consent through an online Dropbox account. The males were students at Bridgewater Junior Senior High School at the time of the offences in 2015.

“They treated the victims’ sexual integrity as bartering chips or baseball cards that could then be traded and circulated amongst friends,” senior prosecutor Peter Dostal wrote in a brief addressed to Judge Paul B. Scovil of Bridgewater provincial court.

Sentencing was expected to take place Monday but was adjourned at the request of defence lawyers. The teens will now be sentenced Sept. 6.

None of the teens can be identified under Canada’s youth criminal justice laws.

‘Obvious’ psychological harm

The Crown is seeking probation for a period up to two years with limitations on contacting the victims.

Internet restrictions are also being proposed, such as limited access to data-storage devices, online video games and social media including the photo- and video-sharing app Snapchat.

Dostal argued in his brief that psychological harm is an “obvious consequence” for the victims in this case.

“There are the resulting negative feelings including embarrassment, humiliation and shame that arises from an awareness that others have observed the images,” he said.

False sense of control 

Dostal said the privacy of the victims was violated even before the images were uploaded to the file-sharing service.

“In many instances the victims did not even give any permission to save the images. The victims believed they were maintaining complete control over the images and that the recipients would only have a short peek at the contents before being deleted by Snapchat,” he said.

Snapchat images are typically deleted after 10 seconds. Dostal said the males got around that by saving screenshots or taking a picture with another device.

Victims were groomed, says Crown

The brief notes some of the males also shared intimate pictures of themselves with the victims. However, it emphasizes that the males are not victims in this case.

“We instead see the act of volunteering intimate photos to the females as a component to a grooming process, an attempt to comfort the females by normalizing their decision to disclose images and avoid the onset of regret after sending photos,” said Dostal.

“It should be noted that at no time did the victim pursue the young males for photos.”

Teens remorseful

The brief goes on to say the males showed genuine remorse while attending group counselling sessions known as restorative programming. Victims were invited to take part in the sessions but declined.

“The programming provided the accused with an opportunity to learn more about the consequences of their actions, show appreciation for their understanding of the harm committed and be confronted by members of the community affected by the actions,” said Dostal.

He added the males are considered “suitable candidates for rehabilitation” and are willing to take part in further programming.

“Considerable weight should be given to the efforts of all participants in this process,” he said.

Climate talk must go beyond being anti-pipeline, Ontario’s outgoing environment minister says

Ontario’s outgoing environment minister says Canada must transform its energy sources if it’s going to meet promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

But Glen Murray won’t speak out against specific projects to build new oil or gas pipelines and plants.

Murray is stepping down from Premier Kathleen Wynne’s cabinet and will take over as executive director of the environmental think-tank Pembina Institute in September.

He says he intends to spend the remainder of his career fighting climate change with smart, evidence-based policies.

Murray refuses to say whether he agrees with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that pipelines can be built and expanded while meeting Canada’s international commitments on climate change.

‘A no-win conversation’

He says Pembina’s role — before and after he takes over — is about big-picture planning rather than campaigns for or against particular projects.

“Pipelines and energy infrastructure in Canada, there is an architecture in there that has to be transformed,” he said Monday in an interview. “To pull out pipelines as a separate discussion from nuclear plants or from other types of infrastructure that are carbon intensive gets you into a conversation that I think is often a no-win conversation.”

Ontario Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray is leaving politics to take on a role at a major environmental think tank.7:22

As Ontario’s environment minister for the last three years Murray was responsible for implementing the province’s cap-and-trade system, and was part of the negotiations for the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.  

He also was part of discussions regarding at least one major new pipeline, the Energy East project to double the capacity to carry crude oil across the country from Alberta to the East Coast. 

The Ontario government initially insisted projects like Energy East had to be environmentally sustainable and viewed in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions. Murray later clarified Ontario’s focus would be on the emissions the pipeline would create within Ontario, leaving it to other provinces to figure out the impact in their jurisdictions.

Murray said he sees the Pembina Institute as a chance to do the kind of work the former National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy used to, taking a “deep dive” into research to produce evidence-based advice for governments of all levels. 

Murray was chair of the roundtable for three years between 2005 and 2008.

“It’s really an opportunity for me to double down on a single commitment for the rest of my life which is working towards a clean, sustainable energy system in Canada and to fighting climate change, and that’s what Pembina does.”

Climate talk must go beyond being anti-pipeline, outgoing environment minister says

Ontario’s outgoing environment minister says Canada must transform its energy sources if it’s going to meet promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

But Glen Murray won’t speak out against specific projects to build new oil or gas pipelines and plants.

Murray is stepping down from Premier Kathleen Wynne’s cabinet and will take over as executive director of the environmental think-tank Pembina Institute in September.

He says he intends to spend the remainder of his career fighting climate change with smart, evidence-based policies.

Murray refuses to say whether he agrees with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that pipelines can be built and expanded while meeting Canada’s international commitments on climate change.

‘A no-win conversation’

He says Pembina’s role — before and after he takes over — is about big-picture planning rather than campaigns for or against particular projects.

“Pipelines and energy infrastructure in Canada, there is an architecture in there that has to be transformed,” he said Monday in an interview. “To pull out pipelines as a separate discussion from nuclear plants or from other types of infrastructure that are carbon intensive gets you into a conversation that I think is often a no-win conversation.”

Ontario Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray is leaving politics to take on a role at a major environmental think tank.7:22

As Ontario’s environment minister for the last three years Murray was responsible for implementing the province’s cap-and-trade system, and was part of the negotiations for the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.  

He also was part of discussions regarding at least one major new pipeline, the Energy East project to double the capacity to carry crude oil across the country from Alberta to the East Coast. 

The Ontario government initially insisted projects like Energy East had to be environmentally sustainable and viewed in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions. Murray later clarified Ontario’s focus would be on the emissions the pipeline would create within Ontario, leaving it to other provinces to figure out the impact in their jurisdictions.

Murray said he sees the Pembina Institute as a chance to do the kind of work the former National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy used to, taking a “deep dive” into research to produce evidence-based advice for governments of all levels. 

Murray was chair of the roundtable for three years between 2005 and 2008.

“It’s really an opportunity for me to double down on a single commitment for the rest of my life which is working towards a clean, sustainable energy system in Canada and to fighting climate change, and that’s what Pembina does.”

Jagmeet Singh tops NDP leadership fundraising in 2nd quarter of 2017

Ontario member of the legislature Jagmeet Singh led the field of NDP leadership candidates in the second quarter of 2017, according to the latest quarterly fundraising report published by Elections Canada.

Singh raised $356,784 from 1,681 individual contributions, despite entering the race in mid-May, halfway through the reporting period that stretched from April 1 to June 30, 2017. That represents 60 per cent of all money raised by the four candidates for the NDP leadership in the quarter.

Singh was followed by Ontario MP Charlie Angus, who raised $123,577 from 1,285 individual contributions. Manitoba MP Niki Ashton raised $70,156 from 1,006 contributors — though she announced that her campaign had already raised $100,000 in July — while Quebec MP Guy Caron raised just $46,970 from 568 contributions.

Angus was the fundraising leader in the first quarter of 2017, before Singh entered the race, bringing in $110,765. Ashton and Caron raised $65,521 and $57,235 respectively at that time, including the $25,000 they each donated to their own campaigns.

Peter Julian, who withdrew from the NDP leadership race in July, raised just $28,673 in the second quarter, after raising $19,143 in the first quarter. Julian pointed to his poor fundraising as one of the reasons for his withdrawal from the contest.

Pat Stogran, who entered the race in April before withdrawing in early June, raised $14,966. 

The NDP will choose its next leader in October.

Conservatives lead in party fundraising

The Conservatives raised $4,073,665 from 32,427 contributions in the second quarter of 2017. While that was down from the party’s haul in the first quarter of the year, it doesn’t include the $1.9 million that was also raised by the leadership contestants. Combined, the Conservative take in the second quarter totaled $6 million.

With or without the leadership dollars, that puts the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals for the second consecutive quarter. The Liberals raised $3,023,955 from 30,149 contributions. That is an increase from the first quarter of 2017, but still below the party’s average quarterly fundraising in 2016.

The New Democratic Party raised $825,985 in the second quarter from 12,448 contributions, in addition to the $642,000 raised by leadership contestants. The funds raised solely by the party were the worst since the second quarter of 2010, but with the leadership fundraising added in, the quarter was the second best for the party since the 2015 federal election.

The Bloc Québécois took in $91,197 in donations from 1,125 contributions in the quarter — its lowest numbers since the first quarter of 2015.

The Green Party raised $486,998 from 7,047 individual contributions, up slightly from its first quarter haul. But the party is still on track for its worst fundraising year since 2013.

Bear 148 moved from Bow Valley to remote area north of Jasper

Bear 148 has been removed from the Bow Valley, transported by helicopter to the remote Kakwa Wildland Provincial Park north of Jasper.

The troublesome, collared bruin — which has had a number of high profile run-ins with hikers in recent months — was captured near Canmore on Friday and released in her new range on Saturday.

“The final incident was on Thursday, a jogger was out and encountered the bear at close distance, she came even closer — this is the incident up to one metre — the jogger tried to deploy his bear spray, but was unable to get the safety off,” said Paul Frame, the carnivore specialist for Alberta Environment and Parks. 

“She did not make contact with him, but at that point, given the frequency of these encounters, we decided that it was time to move her from the Bow Valley for public safety reasons.”

First relocation

In early July, the six-year-old bear was also trapped and moved. It was relocated to the western edge of its home range in Kootenay National Park after charging a person walking with a stroller and a dog on a leash west of Canmore.

But a few days later she was back, spotted at the Sunshine turnoff area in Banff National Park.

Earlier this year, the wayward grizzly wandered onto a field during a high-school rugby practice in Banff, followed some hikers and chased a woman who was kick-sledding.

The province has warned that if the grizzly exhibits aggressive behaviour toward people in provincially managed areas, officials might resort to killing it.

In response, Bow Valley residents started a petition calling for the animal to be spared, which has garnered more than 24,000 signatures.

Minimize contact with humans

Frame said the decision to move her was not taken lightly, particularly after trying so hard to keep her there, including the removal of buffalo berries from areas around Canmore, closures, warnings and cross-agency cooperation and monitoring between Alberta Parks and Parks Canada.  

Kakwa was chosen because it’s difficult to access, with no roads into the park. 

“The thinking of moving her there was to give her a good chance of survival and to minimize the chance of continued conflict with humans,” said Frame. “This type of behaviour is pretty concerning and we didn’t want it to end in a tragedy.”

Bear 148’s collar will continue to be monitored to ensure she doesn’t get close to human developments. 

Bear 148 captured and relocated to remote area north of Jasper

Bear 148 has been removed from the Bow Valley, transported by helicopter to the remote Kakwa Wildland Provincial Park north of Jasper.

The troublesome, collared bruin — which has had a number of high profile run-ins with hikers in recent months — was captured near Canmore on Friday and released in her new range on Saturday.

“The final incident was on Thursday, a jogger was out and encountered the bear at close distance, she came even closer — this is the incident up to one metre — the jogger tried to deploy his bear spray, but was unable to get the safety off,” said Paul Frame, the carnivore specialist for Alberta Environment and Parks. 

“She did not make contact with him, but at that point, given the frequency of these encounters, we decided that it was time to move her from the Bow Valley for public safety reasons.”

First relocation

In early July, the six-year-old bear was also trapped and moved. It was relocated to the western edge of its home range in Kootenay National Park after charging a person walking with a stroller and a dog on a leash west of Canmore.

But a few days later she was back, spotted at the Sunshine turnoff area in Banff National Park.

Earlier this year, the wayward grizzly wandered onto a field during a high-school rugby practice in Banff, followed some hikers and chased a woman who was kick-sledding.

The province has warned that if the grizzly exhibits aggressive behaviour toward people in provincially managed areas, officials might resort to killing it.

In response, Bow Valley residents started a petition calling for the animal to be spared, which has garnered more than 24,000 signatures.

Minimize contact with humans

Frame said the decision to move her was not taken lightly, particularly after trying so hard to keep her there, including the removal of buffalo berries from areas around Canmore, closures, warnings and cross-agency cooperation and monitoring between Alberta Parks and Parks Canada.  

Kakwa was chosen because it’s difficult to access, with no roads into the park. 

“The thinking of moving her there was to give her a good chance of survival and to minimize the chance of continued conflict with humans,” said Frame. “This type of behaviour is pretty concerning and we didn’t want it to end in a tragedy.”

Bear 148’s collar will continue to be monitored to ensure she doesn’t get close to human developments. 

Bear 148 captured and relocated — again

Bear 148 is once again on the move.

The troublesome, collared bruin — which has had a number of high profile run-ins with hikers in recent months — was captured near Canmore on Friday and relocated to a remote area.

Brent Wittmeier, press secretary to the minister of Environment and Parks, confirmed the move on social media.

“She’s been relocated farther away after several incidents these last few days,” he said on Twitter.

“Decision was made to prevent tragedy and to save her life.”

In early July, the six-year-old bear was also trapped and moved. It was relocated to the western edge of its home range in Kootenay National Park after charging a person walking with a stroller and a dog on a leash west of Canmore.

But a few days later she was back, spotted at the Sunshine turnoff area in Banff National Park.

Earlier this year, the wayward grizzly wandered onto a field during a high-school rugby practice in Banff, followed some hikers and chased a woman who was kick-sledding.

Provincial officials earlier said the bear would be destroyed if it displayed further aggressive behaviour on provincially managed land.

In response, Bow Valley residents started a petition calling for the animal to be spared, which has garnered more than 24,000 signatures.

What does it cost to help a homeless mentally ill Canadian?

The cost of providing services to homeless people with mental illness in Canada is so high that a team of researchers from across Canada is suggesting policymakers look at alternatives, since current programs are not doing enough to end homelessness. 

The team, led by McGill University health economist Eric Latimer, found that on average, it costs more than $50,000 per person per year to offer services in Canada’s three biggest cities: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

The study also looked at Winnipeg and Moncton.  

The study was published last week by CMAJ Open, the Canadian Medical Association’s online, open-access journal.

The researchers tallied the costs of services such as supportive housing, treatment for substance use, emergency department visits, ambulance trips, hospital admissions, police and court appearances, social assistance and disability benefits, and incarceration. 

“What it tells us is, there’s a lot of money that is being contributed to the cause of homelessness,” Matthew Pearce, the president and CEO of the Old Brewery Mission in Montreal, told CBC News.

“That’s a lot of money per individual.”

“We should expect significant impact for that kind of an investment, and we’re not seeing that,” Pearce said. “I don’t think we’re seeing declines in the number of homeless people. I don’t think we’re finding significant increases, generally speaking, in the quality of services to homeless people.”

Costs across Canada

Matthew Pearce

Matthew Pearce, the head of Montreal’s Old Brewery Mission, said the new research shows that lots of money is spent on homelessness but current approaches are not doing enough to end the problem. (CBC)

Researchers looked at 953 people who participated in the study as part of the At Home/Chez Soi project between October 2009 and June 2011.

Costs varied significantly between cities. Costs for supportive housing were especially high in Montreal, while costs for police and court appearances were much higher in Toronto than in Montreal or Vancouver.

Here’s what it costs in each city, on average, to provide services for a homeless person with mental illness:

  • Vancouver — $53,144.
  • Winnipeg — $45,565.
  • Toronto — $58,972.
  • Montreal —  $56,406.
  • Moncton — $29,610.

Researchers did not include the costs of medication due to the difficulty of obtaining provincial health data, but they estimated that, based on Quebec figures, medication would add an average of $3,000 per person to the total.

Looking for solutions

The researchers say there’s limited information available on the cost of homelessness in Canada, and with more 235,000 Canadians finding themselves without a place to live over the course of a year, that’s a shortcoming.

The findings suggest the “need for a comprehensive response” to the problem, they say — and  the importance of preventing vulnerable people from finding themselves in that situation in the first place.

“In some ways, homelessness is not the problem. It’s a symptom of a problem,” Pearce said.

“It’s a symptom of inadequate services for people with mental illness. It’s a symptom of inadequate options for affordable housing for individuals.”