op-ed

Want To Help The Opioid Crisis? Pass Tax Reform

heroin Getty Images/Spencer Platt

Roger D. Klein Doctor and health care expert
Font Size:

The United States is experiencing a drug epidemic the likes of which have not been seen here before. Beginning in the 1990s, doctors began widely prescribing a class of highly addictive pain medications called opioids for patients with mild to moderate pain. Although most people did not become addicted, a still sizable number were hooked.

The increased availability of painkillers also resulted in their diversion to illicit, non-prescribed uses, spawning a large halo of additional drug abusers. Many drug addicts moved on to stronger illegal drugs like heroin and the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, a dangerous adulterant often spiked into heroin.

As many as 3 million people in the U.S. are dependent on these opioids, including 500,000 who are addicted to heroin. About 100 people a day die from opioid overdoses, which are the leading cause of death in people under 50 years of age and are killing people at a faster rate than did HIV at its peak. The severity of the current crisis recently prompted President Trump to declare it a public health emergency.

The opioid epidemic is inextricably linked to economic dislocation. Rural and rust belt manufacturing regions, from which businesses and jobs have disappeared, have seen the highest addiction and death rates. West Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire have been most heavily hit, with Appalachia having the highest addiction rates in the nation. These and similar areas have been decimated by high unemployment, accompanying financial stress, and limited economic prospects.

This economic distress is also reflected in an enormous rise in the number of workers living off Social Security Disability payments. In 1998, approximately 4.5 million workers obtained disability payments. This number ballooned to almost 9 million in 2014. The opioid epidemic and the increase in numbers of Social Security Disability recipients are both symptoms of the same underlying ailment: slow economic growth, diminution of vocational possibilities and undermining of financial security.

Many economists and policymakers believe that our outdated and inefficient tax regime, which sports the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world, coupled with an explosion in burdensome new regulations have severely curtailed the country’s economic performance. This translates into fewer jobs and lower pay for workers from the factory floor to the front office, and to the millions of Americans who service them and the companies at which they are employed. The Trump administration is making great progress in reducing our regulatory burden. Reform of our tax system is imperative.

We must lower rates and fix the way we assess and collect taxes to make U.S. companies more competitive. We need to foster and encourage investment in our country, and stimulate Americans to produce, save and take entrepreneurial risks. Objectors argue that many companies do not pay our comparatively excessive corporate tax rate. Although true, the complexity and machinations these businesses pursue to avoid this levy results in misallocation of resources that would be better spent on the creation of jobs and wage increases. Our pathologic obsession with taxing moneys earned in and taxed by other countries has redirected investment away from the United States, and resulted in the accumulation of billions of under-utilized dollars overseas. Our high individual income tax rates have discouraged work, productivity and entrepreneurship.

Both the House and Senate tax bills take important steps in the right direction. Reducing corporate tax rates will make U.S. companies more competitive, increasing jobs and earnings. Closing loopholes will promote efficiency, discourage misdirection of funds away from their most productive uses, and focus attention on profit enhancing, job creating activities rather than tax avoidance. Repatriation of billions of dollars that can be used to hire and increase the pay of employees will result from adoption of a “territorial tax system.” Letting individuals keep more of their own money will permit them to save, spend, or create new businesses as they choose. These improvements will be a shot in the arm to the private economy, where businesses are born, products are produced, wealth is generated, and jobs are created.

The leadership President Donald Trump has shown on the issue of opioids and addiction are substantial and extremely important. However, the decision to use drugs is a choice. Enhancing opportunity and engendering a vibrant, thriving economy will offer positive, competing, and meaningful alternatives to drug abuse. We should not underestimate the salutary effects tax reform will have on the opioid crisis.

Dr. Roger D. Klein is an expert on health care for the Regulatory Transparency Project. He is a former adviser to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He is a graduate of Yale University.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.