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Comments on Bill 9 - The Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act.

 The Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery  Act is designed to allow  Manitoba to participate in a lawsuit with British Columbia and other provinces to recover costs related to opioid addictions from pharmaceutical companies which sold opioid drugs.  I spoke on this bill at Second reading on Wednesday November 25.   Below is a short question and answer from the Minister which occurred before my speech and which is relevant to the content of my speech. 

Mr. Gerrard: To the minister: one of the reasons for pursuing a lawsuit like this is to send a message to other businesses or industries which might get involved in activities which could cause harm.

      And I wonder if the minister has given this any thought, and whether there are any other groups or industries that the minister may be considering going after for harm that has been done to people in Manitoba?

Mr. Cullen: I do appreciate that question as well. Not–there's nothing else top of mind for me right now. Certainly, when we look at this particular case, we look at negligence and misrepresentations being made by these companies, I think. I appreciate the good doctor's input, and if he sees there's any other areas that he sees that there may be this similar misrepresentation or negligence, we would be more than happy to follow up on that.

 

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): First of all, I want to indicate that we in the Manitoba Liberal Party will be supporting this legislation. We believe it is important to take a class action lawsuit like this against big pharmaceutical companies which have been involved in promoting the use of opioids. The suit itself, I'm sure, will look at the details and will cover many aspects.

I was moved by the story that the MLA for St. Johns shared with all of us and, as I suggested to the minister earlier on in question period, I think it would be important that there be some individual stories which are included as well as the global body of data, which is also extremely important.

And although the global body of data to implicate pharmaceutical companies is certainly there, that–the other thing which is also very important is that people have an understanding of the trauma, of the human suffering that has been imposed and that that understanding is fundamentally important to the success of this lawsuit.

      It is important to talk about, as the member for Point Douglas (Mrs. Smith) has done, the lack of adequate addictions care treatment in Manitoba. I was looking at this Canadian best practices discussion [this is a reference to an article providing these best practices], which is comprehensive in emphasizing the importance of continuity of care and the steps along that route of continuity of care.

      Clearly, one of the most important aspects of this is for individuals who have addictions to be able to get the treatment at the point when they need it. If you have somebody who has reached a point in their life where they're ready for treatment, it can't wait 24 hours or 48 hours, it must be there and it must be there right then.

      I note that in the document that was tabled earlier on, that the wait times for adult men for Winnipeg residential treatment is 53 days. That is 53 days too long. That's not acceptable. It's not working for people to have those sorts of delays, and that has to change.

      I note that for adult women, Winnipeg residential, it's 230 days. That is completely unacceptable. And it's horrifying, in fact, to see that number there and to see how long people will have to wait. A day is almost a lifetime for a person who is having a severe addiction and is ready to come forward and wants the help the treatment provides. And to not have it there is just bad medicine.

      It is a health-care system which is not working. It is a health-care system which is not getting the attention that it should. And there may be various components which have been added by the current government, and they should get some credit for adding money and components in certain areas, but they get really bad marks for a situation where there are long waits. A long wait, in this case, is just not good treatment. It is not appropriate, and it has to change.

      We in the Liberal Party would commit to making sure that that change occurs, because we believe that it is essential to help people; it is essential if we're going to help people not only address their addictions. But in many circumstances I have seen and, indeed, know and have worked individuals who have turned their lives around after having had addictions. And that happened because, in part, they got the treatment they needed. And we need to make sure that what is possible for some can be possible for many, many more. And the reason that it can be made possible is first and foremost by making sure that there is access to treatment quickly.

      I would also to talk about the fact it's not good enough to have a situation where we  have the components here, there and everywhere, of the overall plan to help somebody from the start through the treatment program, through helping them get housing, very often for the–helping them get the support they need to get back on their feet and to be supported. I think it's really important that through all those steps, that there be a continuity of care, that there be an availability of individuals who can help navigate them through those steps and support them through that navigation process.

      And it's important to recognize the critical role, in many circumstances, of people who are peer support workers, who have lived experience. These are people who have some understanding of what the individual with addiction is going through and can provide a unique kind of insight and help and encouragement and example of what can happen.

      I had the good fortune to know a woman who was struggling and had the opportunity to provide a little bit of help.  And I watch her now as she has come through and has taken on very significant and important roles in different areas in Manitoba. It is possible. We need to have more of those messages going around, that it is possible to come through challenging circumstances. It is possible to come out the other end and do well.

      But it needs a robust support, and it needs continuous support, and it needs people who can help make sure there's no gaps in the training as there are now, and that through the navigation pathway that there is the peer support, and that this is all part of a program which can make a difference.

      So, we have a responsibility here in Manitoba to address and to help those who have addictions. We are, in this bill, helping with the going after companies which have falsely represented some of the opioid drugs and promoted their use.

      We also need to look, as I discussed in my–in the question period, at other areas. And to the Minister of Justice (Mr. Cullen), I say that there is another example of a poison which he should be looking at. And it is a poison that has been the subject of a number of lawsuits in the United States. It has its own unique challenges in terms of bringing forward lawsuits, but I say to the Minister of Justice that we, in the Liberal Party, would certainly welcome his efforts in this direction and would be supportive.

      And the poison that I'm talking about is lead. Lead is a substance which has been long known to be involved in damaging young children's brains. It causes damage even while the infant is in the mother's womb because lead can get from the mother into the child, into the fetus, into the growing child.

      And the important area and time of exposure tends to be during pregnancy, and in the first two or three years after. And we have had, in Manitoba, exposure from industrial uses, from paint, from lead in our city water as a result of lead pipes being used to transport the water, and there are other areas: lead ammunition, which may be significant and which may be important.

      And of course, there was, for a long time, lead in gasoline in significant amounts. But this lead exposure early on–

Madam Speaker: Order, please. I'm going to ask the member that he is straying from the relevance of the legislation that is before us, and I would like to ask him to bring his comments back to the legislation at hand.

Mr. Gerrard: Madam Speaker, we're talking in this legislation about addictions, and I'm going to connect the dots - there is significant evidence that exposure of young children, early on in life, to lead, and children having high blood lead levels, is associated with a significant increase in addictions later in life.

      And this appears to be one of the significant consequences of lead, and here we are talking about addictions. Lead is associated with brain damage, with learning disabilities, behavioural problems, dropping out of school, addictions, mental illness and, indeed, crime.

      So, I won't pursue this further except to say, and to tell the Minister of Justice, that this is another area that he should look at and he asked for my advice on this during question period and so I'm going to share that with him.

      I think it is important when we're dealing with addictions, and to bring this back, that we have a system where there are no gaps in the process or the continuum of care. And in this we still have a long way to go, and I hope that the minister, in pursuing this class-action lawsuit, will learn more about addictions and will make an effort to work with his Minister of Health and to provide a much better system in Manitoba for helping and caring for and treating people who have addictions in our province.

      Thank you, Madam Speaker, merci, miigwech.

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