Commentary: Opioid impact fee will save lives in Delaware

I would like to correct misinformation in a recent op-ed Dover pharmacist Elizabeth Hauss penned about legislation that would hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the opioid crisis they helped create here in Delaware. (“Delaware opioid surcharge plan ‘misguided’” April 17)

Here are the facts: One in four Delaware families is now affected by this crisis. Drug overdoses are now killing more Delawareans each year than car crashes, and Delaware leads the nation when it comes to the prescription rate for high-dose opioids.

We are working hard to reverse those statistics, but it’s going to take a variety of approaches if we are going to stem this tide.

Sen. Stephanie Hansen

That’s why I have sponsored Senate Bill 34 to create the nation’s first opioid impact fee, a small levy paid by the makers of these drugs based on the strength of their products.

This fee amounts to 4 cents per dose for the most commonly prescribed opioid — a generic, 10-milligram oxycodone pill — and 15 cents for the brand-name version.

But it would raise close to $8 million over the next three years to help cover the cost of addiction treatment and fund valuable research to ensure we are offering the most effective care possible.

This is a sound bill co-sponsored by a full third of the General Assembly — 17 Democrats and three Republicans. The legislation also is backed by the Delaware Department of Justice and atTAcK Addiction, Delaware’s leading voice for families impacted by drug abuse.

Yet Ms. Hauss repeats the same unsubstantiated claims we’ve heard from the drug makers who helped to get us into this mess. Ms. Hauss also neglects to mention that she is employed by a giant drug distributor that has paid out more than $100 million to settle various claims about its own role in the nation’s opioid epidemic.

She and the drug companies claim this fee will be passed down to consumers, ignoring the research and testimony of numerous experts in this field.

The reality is the pharmaceutical supply chain is made up of many manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers and pharmacies — each competing for the same customers. There are 20 manufacturers that supply oxycodone to Delaware alone. And as they compete to offer the lowest price, the companies in that supply chain will absorb any additional cost long before it gets to the consumer, particularly since the fee is so low.

There also will be no “catastrophic” drug shortage as Ms. Hauss claims. Just look back to 2014 when the price for oxycodone was 60% higher than it is today. There was no shortage in supply then or a shortage in prescribers and users. And should one manufacturer decide not to absorb the fee and leave, there will be 19 others more than happy to step in and take over their market share.

Lastly, scaring hospice patients and their families into thinking legislation will increase the costs of their drugs is particularly reprehensible.

Drugs provided directly to patients by hospice providers are not subject to the fee. Hospice patients who go to their neighborhood pharmacy also would not be impacted. That’s because all hospice providers in Delaware issue a prescription card to their patients that is processed the same way as a normal insurance card. The co-pay is $0 for drugs covered by the hospice program — no matter which provider they have enrolled with.

Anytime you try something new, there are going to be naysayers. But we should not be dissuaded by those with a vested interest in protecting the same drug companies that helped to create the opioid crisis we’re in now.

This legislation will save lives and the time has come to pass SB 34.

Sen. Stephanie Hansen represents the 10th District, which includes portions of Newark, Glasgow, Bear and Middletown.

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