DOVER, Del. (AP) — Drug manufacturers that sell opioid painkillers in Delaware would pay a new tax to help support substance abuse prevention and treatment, under legislation approved Tuesday by the state Senate.
The bill cleared the Senate on a 17-4 vote and now goes to the House.
The legislation imposes a per-pill tax on prescription opioids ranging from a few cents to a dollar or more, based on their strength and whether they are brand-name or generic.
The tax would be used to create a fund for drug treatment and substance abuse prevention programs.
"These multi-million dollar companies that have reaped record profits after flooding our doctors' offices and getting people in pain hooked on these drugs will no longer be able to avoid responsibility for the pain and suffering caused by their products," said chief sponsor Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown.
The legislation imposes a per-pill tax on prescription opioids ranging from a few cents to a dollar or more, based on their strength and whether they are brand-name or generic. The tax would consist of one cent for every morphine milligram equivalent, or MME, of any brand-name opioid dispensed in Delaware, and one-quarter of a cent for every MME of a generic opioid.
By way of example, according to Senate Democrats, a single 10-milligram pill of the common generic opioid oxycodone would carry a 4-cent tax, while the surcharge on a brand-name equivalent of the same relatively low dose would be 15 cents.
Officials estimate that the tax would raise about $8 million over three years. Critics say the cost will be passed on by the manufacturers to insurers, pharmacies and ultimately patients, who will end up paying more for their medicine.
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry trade group, proposed other alternatives for addressing the opioid epidemic, including seven day script limits for opioid prescriptions for acute pain; implementation of prescription drug monitoring programs; and mandated prescriber training.
"Unfortunately, what's being proposed — taxing legitimately prescribed medicines that patients rely on for legitimate medical needs to raise revenues for the state — ignores evidence-based solutions, sets a dangerous precedent and ultimately won't help patients and families," Nick McGee, a spokesman for group, said in an email.
But Jeromie Ballreich, a health economist at Johns Hopkins University, told lawmakers the new tax would not result in higher copays for patients or shortages of pain medications at pharmacies.
"I do not expect copays to change based on this fee, just as they don't change for drug price increases," he said.
Delaware is one of several states where lawmakers have considered fees or taxes on drug manufacturers to help pay for opioid addiction treatment and prevention programs.
New York lawmakers approved an opioid tax last year, but a federal judge declared the law unconstitutional because it forbade manufacturers and distributors from passing on the costs to downstream purchasers.
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