For two decades pharmaceutical companies have misled the public, doctors and patients about how addictive opioids, such as OxyContin, are, never mind how ineffective they actually are at reducing chronic pain.

Tens of thousands have died of overdoses from these drugs and whole communities have been decimated by an ongoing addiction crisis. It will take years of efforts by health care officials and politicians to reverse course and recover from this tragedy.

So, at a time when health departments desperately need money to prevent overdoses and treat addictions, it was welcome news that two drug companies may be on the hook for billions in the United States for their role in fuelling the opioid crisis.

The hope is that the $572 million (U.S.) fine against Johnson & Johnson and a multibillion dollar settlement by Purdue Pharma LP may set a welcome precedent to help settle a Canadian class-action launched by B.C., Ontario and other provinces against numerous pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies.

Still, the provinces’ case against the drug giants is almost certainly years away from being settled. And other actions are needed now. Even Purdue, of all companies, recognized that when it said of its proffered agreement to settle: “The people and communities affected by the opioid crisis need help now.”

It’s time Premier Doug Ford recognized that need as well.

Instead of doing more to help those afflicted with opioid addictions, his government has cruelly blocked the provision of life-saving health care services and enacting the legislation that could help prevent more Ontarians from becoming hooked on these drugs in the future.

First, his government blocked much-needed supervised injection sites from opening, though staff at these clinics have saved thousands of lives in this province by reversing overdoses.

Then it only approved 15 sites for funding, forcing some to rely on charitable handouts for their operations, and leaving dozens of communities without life-saving services.

Even a site run by Toronto Public Health, for heaven’s sake, hasn’t been deemed worthy of approval by the Ford government and is operating under “review,” though staff at The Works have reversed more than 980 overdoses since opening their doors.

The fact is, last year, alone, more than 1,200 people died in this province from opioid overdoses. Many of them could have been saved if Ontario had more supervised prevention sites.

At the same time, the Ford government has failed to enact the Health Sector Transparency Act, which could deter doctors from over-prescribing opioids in the first place. It would help shine a spotlight on how pharmaceutical companies entice physicians into prescribing their drugs through lavish marketing methods.

Considering an estimated 75 per cent of those who are addicted to opioids got hooked through prescriptions from physicians for ailments as minor as back pain, you would think the Ford government would want to enact the legislation that was passed by the previous Liberal government.

But it is bowing to pressure from drug companies that claim this is an unnecessary regulatory burden. It’s not. It’s a move towards some much needed transparency in health care.

By joining the class action lawsuit against Big Pharma, originally launched by B.C., Ontario has taken a good step forward. But that doesn’t get it off the hook for meeting the immediate needs.

The Ford government must stop blocking necessary health services to prevent overdoses. And it should move ahead with existing legislation that could help prevent future patients from spiralling into addiction.

The government can’t just wait for hoped-for money from lawsuits that may take years to settle to pay for health services addicts and communities need now.