Democratic Senators Propose Tax On Painkillers To Combat Opioid Epidemic

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

Democratic lawmakers introduced a proposal to place a fee on opioid prescriptions with the revenue going to combat rampant painkiller and heroin addiction across the U.S.

Sen. Chris Murphy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut, a state hit hard by increases in drug overdoses, are calling for a one-cent per-milligram tax to be added to prescriptions for opiate-based painkillers. The revenue will go towards addiction treatment programs and other federal efforts to stem rising heroin abuse. The bill, dubbed the LifeBOAT Act, contains rebates for cancer patients or those in hospice care. The fee will not apply to opioid medications used in addiction treatment programs, reports the Hartford Courant.

The bill already has a number of sponsors, including, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and is being reviewed by the Department of Health and Human Services on how it may impact patients and the price of medications.

“We have to start thinking out of the box in terms of getting the necessary funding to combat this crisis,” Murphy told the Hartford Courant Thursday. “There are a lot of prescriptions out there, so this tiny fee, when you apply it to every pain medication, ultimately garners a billion a year.”

Connecticut saw a 125.9 percent increase in synthetic opioid and heroin deaths between 2014 and 2015. Neighboring states are also experiencing sharp increases in heroin abuse and overdoses. New York experienced a 135.7 percent increase in synthetic opioid and heroin deaths between 2014 and 2015.

“The opioid epidemic has caused seemingly endless pain and suffering in Connecticut and throughout the country,” Blumenthal said in a statement, according to the Hartford Courant. “We must utilize every tool in our arsenal to fight back and provide communities, families, and individual patients with the resources they need to deliver and access lifesaving prevention and treatment services.”

Lawmakers in California recently proposed a similar bill at the state level that would place a one-cent-per-milligram fee on painkillers sold by prescription wholesalers to pharmacies. Addiction experts blame much of the explosion of heroin use since 2010 on the over-prescribing of pain medications for more than a decade.

Officials with the DEA say four out of five heroin addicts started with painkillers.

A record 33,000 Americans died from opioid related overdoses in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid deaths contributed to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993 and eclipsed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2015.

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