Support from northerners like you keeps our journalism alive. Sign up here.



NWT seeks law change to join BC in pursuing opioid companies

The chamber of the Legislative Assembly of The Northwest Territories. Jaahnlieb/Dreamstime
The chamber of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. Jaahnlieb/Dreamstime

The NWT government is proposing legislation designed to allow the territory to more easily join BC-led legal action against drug producers and distributors.

In 2018, British Columbia launched a class-action lawsuit against roughly 50 companies that manufacture and distribute prescription opioid medication.

The province alleged the companies caused an epidemic of addiction – at substantial cost to governments – through a breach of their duty to consumers, causing “deaths and serious and long-lasting injury to public peace, health, order, and safety.”

BC concluded that the drug manufacturers were “impacting its ability to deliver healthcare to the citizens of British Columbia.”



On Tuesday, the GNWT said it was proposing a new act – the Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act – that addresses obstacles preventing the territory from fully joining BC’s action.

A plain-language summary of the bill was tabled in the legislature by Premier Caroline Cochrane on behalf of justice minister RJ Simpson, who is away this week attending meetings on immigration in his role as employment minister.

“At present, the GNWT’s ability to sue for the recovery of opioid-related healthcare costs is in question, as the applicable limitation period has expired under the Limitation of Actions Act,” the territory stated.

“The proposed legislation would remove the existing limitation period barrier to such a claim.”

The wording of the act is “virtually identical” to that recently enacted in eight other jurisdictions for the same purpose, the GNWT stated.

BC’s action has been rolling through the courts for years, with the BC Court of Appeal concluding that one element of the province’s case – that the opioid epidemic amounted to a public nuisance – must be struck. However, the same court has denied a range of appeals filed by the drug companies themselves.