In Minnesota last week, Gov. Mark Dayton and a bipartisan group of lawmakers called for a new tax on prescription opioids, with the resulting revenue being used to combat the opiate epidemic. Nearly 400 Minnesotans died of opiate overdoses in 2016.
The plan would tax prescription opioids a penny on each milligram of active ingredient in a pain pill. The proceeds, estimated to be about $20 million per year, would go toward prevention, emergency response, treatment and recovery, and law enforcement.
The plan would distribute $5 million to communities judged to be most in need, including $4 million to 11 tribal nations. Some funding would be used to improve the state’s prescription drug monitoring system, and more financing would be available for treatment and medical care of addicts.
Two legislators who have lost children to opiate addictions also spoke at the news conference: Republican Rep. Dave Baker, and DFL Sen. Chris Eaton. “I don’t want to see other families go through what my family went through when we lost our son,” Baker said.
“I know the pharmaceutical companies had the data, they had the studies that showed them these drugs were dangerously addictive,” Eaton said. “And they tried to get doctors to prescribe them more to make money. I don’t see any reason why the taxpayers should have to pay to fix this. I believe (pharmaceutical companies) owe reparations,” she said.
Nick McGee, director of public affairs at the PhRMA, the pharmaceutical trade association, said the tax would have “negative consequences” on “patients and innovation.”
“This proposed tax ignores all the factors that led to this public health crisis, including the substantial influx of heroin, counterfeit fentanyl and other illegal drugs, and fails to recognize existing funding available for treatment, prevention and other important programs to help communities,” McGee said in an e-mail to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt told Minnesota Public Radio that, although he expects to pass a major bill this session to fight opioid abuse, a penny tax might not be included. “I’m not sure if it will pass exactly in that form, but we’re going to take some big steps this year to curb the opioid addiction problem,” he told MPR. “It’s a priority of mine to do significant legislation this session trying to solve or reduce the opioid crisis.”
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, also a Republican, said that while he wants to earmark funding to fight the epidemic, he’s not sold on the idea of taxing drug makers.
Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform expressed his opposition to the tax proposal in a letter to Minnesota legislators.
“This proposal seeks to impose an economically damaging cash grab disguised as an addiction mitigation effort,” Norquist wrote in a letter to Minnesota legislators in January. “This is simply another example of a tax hike that does not achieve its ostensible goal but does have negative unintended consequences.”
In 2014, Minnesota was chosen to be one of six states to participate in the National Governors Association (NGA) prescription drug abuse academy. A Minnesota State Substance Abuse Strategy (SSAS) frame was proposed to develop an effective approach to prevent opioid use disorder and reduce access to prescription pain medications throughout Minnesota. To accomplish this, the State Opioid Oversight Project (SOOP) was formed.
By June 2018 SOOP will create a state strategic plan that to include prescription drug overdose and heroin overdose death prevention; emergency response; intervention and treatment; primary prevention and public health; an inter-agency grant matrix; and integration of statewide efforts, including established work groups and publications.