New fee on opioids proposed

 

DOVER — “We have a monster on our hands.”

That’s how Sen. Stephanie Hansen, a Middletown Democrat, describes the ongoing opioid epidemic that claims the lives of more than 100 Americans every day.

From Florida to Alaska, people are falling victim to the scourge of addiction, and Delaware is no exception, she said.

Altogether, 306 people fatally overdosed in the First State in 2016, with opioids being responsible for a majority of those deaths.

Delaware officials have in the past few years intensified efforts to combat addiction, adding treatment centers, creating more state entities and passing new laws. But it still isn’t enough.

“We have a lot of need for residential treatment, for treatment programs and services, wraparound services, that we just don’t have the money to fund,” Sen. Hansen said.

That’s why she plans to introduce legislation that would create a new fee on opioids, to be paid by drug manufacturers and used to fill a special fund focused solely on supporting drug treatment.

Set to be introduced as soon as next week, the measure would charge producers one cent per morphine milligram equivalent, a standard unit of measurement for narcotics.

Ten milligrams of oxycodone, for instance, would require the manufacturer to pay an extra 15 cents.

The Prescription Monitoring Program already tracks distribution of opioid medication and, based on information collected by the program, it is estimated the fee would have brought in around $9.2 million had it been in place last year, Sen. Hansen said.

The bill would specifically forbid manufacturers from passing the costs along to customers and would give the Department of Justice power to go after companies that do not pay the fee.

The Prescription Opioid Impact Fund set up by the bill would be overseen by the Department of Health and Social Services, with the Behavioral Health Consortium and Addiction Action Committee offering recommendations on how exactly the money should be spent.

DHSS would have to report annually on the state of the fund to the governor and General Assembly.

The money in the fund could be used for starting treatment programs, purchasing a medication that can counteract the effects of an overdose, reimbursing state Medicaid spending on drug addiction, assisting addicts who lack insurance and covering administrative costs.

The proposal would also direct all money received through lawsuits relating to the opioid crisis to be placed in the fund unless directed otherwise by a court order.

It is the latest of several measures that would tax opioid producers.

Rep. Helene Keeley, a Wilmington Democrat, in June filed a proposal that would tax opioids at 10 percent of the purchase price to be paid by the manufacturer or distributor. It has not advanced through the legislative process, however, and Rep. Keeley is cosponsoring Sen. Hansen’s draft bill.

“It’s much more direct in how we want the funds to be spent,” Rep. Keeley said of the latest measure.

Her bill would have allocated funding to the state’s General Fund.

Building on that first bill, House Minority Whip Deborah Hudson, a Greenville Republican, two weeks ago introduced similar legislation to tax opioids.

Instead of putting the money in the General Fund, however, it would create a new fund and a new advisory council, as well as a full-time opioid policy adviser.

In Rep. Hudson’s eyes, the bill would do the necessary duty of coordinating assistance for addicts and their families.

“The help is scattered,” she said. “There’s no single source dedicated to this epidemic.”

The policy adviser would be almost like a temporary cabinet-level position, she said.

While she said she has spoken to Sen. Hansen, Rep. Hudson is wary the forthcoming legislation could end up growing government. Sen. Hansen, however, said her draft bill is narrowly focused on helping combat addiction.

“This is not creating anything new as far as how we’re going to the information,” she said. “It’s not creating a new license, it’s not creating a new oversight body or someone that’s going to be in charge.”

Other states have also attempted to create new taxes or fees on opioid medications, with New York recently enacting a budget that requires opioid distributors and manufacturers to pay the state.

According to a January lawsuit filed by the Delaware Department of Justice against drug manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, there are more than 50 opioid pills in the state for every person.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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