DOVER, Del. (AP) — A bill requiring drug manufacturers that sell opioid painkillers in Delaware to pay a new tax to help support substance abuse prevention and treatment has received final legislative approval.
The bill cleared the House on a 33-to-8 vote Thursday after passing the Senate last month and now goes to Democratic Gov. John Carney.
The legislation would impose 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.
Officials estimate the tax would raise about $8 million over three years.
Passage of the bill comes one week after state public health director Dr. Karyl Rattay testified before a congressional committee about Delaware's opioid crisis. Rattay noted that Delaware had the sixth-highest rate of overdose fatalities in the nation in 2017, and that 400 Delawareans died from drug overdoses last year.
In 2009, almost all overdose deaths in Delaware were due to prescription drugs, according to state officials. Last year, however, prescription drugs contributed to only 36 percent of overdose deaths, according to Rattay. She also noted that opioid prescribing rates in Delaware fell by 25 percent from 2013 to 2017, but that Delaware is the highest-prescribing state for high doses of opioids and long-acting opioids.
Rep. David Bentz, chief House sponsor of the opioid tax, acknowledged that illegal fentanyl "is what's taking lives at the end of the day," but said prescription painkillers manufactured by pharmaceutical companies are a "gateway" to addiction.
"We're just asking for a little bit of accountability," said Bentz, D-Bear.
Critics suggest that drug manufacturers are being unfairly targeted and say the tax will be passed on to insurers, pharmacies and ultimately patients, who will pay more for their medication.
"The crisis that we have ... is the result of several factors, and not just one industry," said Rep. Ruth Briggs King of Georgetown, one of eight Republicans who voted against the bill.
A spokesman for Carney said the bill will be reviewed by the governor's legal and policy teams before reaching his desk.
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. The Delaware bill contains no such restriction.
The legislation imposes a per-pill tax on prescription opioids 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, 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.
All contents © copyright 2019 Associated Press. All rights reserved.