State cashing in on opioid fee

DOVER — An opioid fee established by the General Assembly has generated almost half a million dollars so far, with more still yet to be collected.

Approved through bipartisan legislation, the law sets a fee of 1 cent for every morphine milligram equivalent of any brand-name opioid dispensed in the state and 1/4 cent per MME for generic opioids sold here.

Drug manufacturers who do not pay the extra cost face a penalty of up to $100 a day or 10 percent of the total due.

Under the statute, a 10mg pill of oxycodone costs an extra 15 (brand-name) or 4 cents (generic).

So far, the state has collected about $483,000 of the $547,000 it has billed to manufacturers for the third quarter of 2019. Delaware also recently sent invoices totaling $528,000 for the fourth quarter of 2019 to 42 companies.

During debate on the legislation last spring, supporters estimated it could bring in $2.8 million in year one.

“I’m absolutely thrilled the nation’s first, successful opioid impact fee is working as designed,” Sen. Stephanie Hansen, a Middletown Democrat who introduced the bill, said in a statement. “The pharmaceutical companies that created the addiction crisis are finally being held accountable and soon we will be using the money we collect to fund new tools and resources capable of breaking the cycle of abuse, addiction and death that has gripped this state for too long.”

In 2017, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Delaware was behind only four states in drug overdose deaths per capita. The state saw 338 people fatally overdose in 2017, with 400 such deaths in 2018.

The number of overdose deaths in the United States increased more than fourfold from 1999 to 2017, when it surpassed 70,000. The federal government declared the situation a public health emergency that year.

Money collected from the opioid fee goes to a special fund used only to treat and prevent drug addiction. The Department of Health and Social Services will coordinate with several state panels to craft recommendations on how exactly the revenue should be spent.

The law does not apply to opioids administered in hospitals, used to treat addiction, provided directly to patients by a hospice or dispensed by veterinarians.

“We are pleased to receive additional funds to support harm reduction and treatment among the thousands of Delawareans suffering from substance use disorder,” DHSS Secretary Kara Odom Walker said in a statement.

“But the level of funding we are receiving makes it even more clear that we have additional work to do to reduce prescribing of both high-dose and long-acting opioid medications in the medical community in order to combat this crisis in the long-term.”