Finding ways to force opioid manufacturers, distributors to pay for epidemic still on tap

Treating the opioid abuse crisis shouldn’t start on an emergency call.
Or even in a hospital’s emergency room, for that matter.
Indeed, many have taken the fight against opioid overdoses to courtrooms, regulatory agencies and schools and into the marketplace.
But recently this battle began going to the one place, aside from cemeteries, where many fear to go: Taxes.
In the past year alone, at least 15 state legislatures began considering bills that would impose taxes or fees on prescription painkillers.
These measures have the potential to raise millions for addiction treatment and prevention programs.
One Pennsylvania bill was introduced in 2015 while a federal proposal was introduced in 2016, but momentum for such legislation has gone full tilt recently.
Most of these bills have yet to get out of committees, but despite intense lobbying, the idea is gaining bipartisan support. The idea is to force drug manufacturers and their distributors to pay for the damage done to a generation.
As one Montana state senator put it, “You’re creating the problem. You’re going to fix it.”
Drugmakers argue that any tax on prescription drugs would only be passed on to patients and taxpayers.
It furthermore might mean, they claim, some cancer patients or those on end-of-life care may no longer be able to afford the prescription they need.
It’s apparent the pharmaceutical industry’s lobby is more intent on spending money defending its position than being part of a solution.
One 2016 investigation determined that opioid makers and their allies spent $880 million on political campaigns and lobbying from 2006-’15.
To date, these drugmakers and distributors have been on the wrong end of some litigation, but any legal settlements didn’t begin to cover the damage done.
Yet, these companies insist there are other ways to pay for addiction treatment and prevention.
We’re curious what that is besides further saddling up taxpayers, who are already are on the hook for billions in state and federal budgets.
One new approach is a surcharge New York state now requires of drugmakers based on the proportion of opioids they sell in that state. Another idea is raising the annual licensing fee from as little as several hundred dollars in many states to into the thousands on opioid manufacturers.
To their credit, opioid manufacturers are curbing production, but the overdose epidemic they fueled remains. Yet, many drug users have resorted to illegal heroin and fentanyl as a result of the tightened supply and prescriptions.
But these companies should be obligated — by mandate or otherwise — to boost treatment for an epidemic they dialed up and that enriched them beyond measure.

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