California is looking to impose a surcharge on prescription opioids to fund treatment for addicts. The move in such a large state could have a ripple effect through the rest of the country dealing with spiking rates of overdoses.
The proposed measure introduced Wednesday by California Assembly member Kevin McCarty, of Sacramento, would place a one-cent-per-milligram tax on prescription opioids. Prescription opioid wholesalers would be responsible for paying the tax, but it is likely those charges would fall onto the shoulders of insurers and consumers.
Will Zasadny, spokesman for the California Life Sciences Association, which lobbies on behalf of pharmaceutical firms in the states said the group was studying the bill and the new amendments, and would not "take a formal position at this time."
Drugmakers spent more than $800 million between 2006 and 2015 on campaign contributions and lobbying efforts against states measures aimed at limiting access to prescription opioids. They say the measures keep painkillers out of the hands of patients in need. The prescription opioid market was valued at $20 billion in 2015 when more than 250 million prescriptions were written.
If passed, California would become the first in the country to tax prescription opioids. Connecticut, Minnesota and Pennsylvania have tried to pass similar measures.
Congress has also tried to address the issue.
Last May, a group of Senate Democrats introduced the “Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment Act”, which would impose a one-cent-per-milligram excise tax on the sale of opioids by the manufacturer, producer or importer. The bill would generate as much $2 billion a year to fund state block grants for substance abuse treatment efforts.
No further action has been taken on the federal bill since it was introduced.
A large state like California imposing a tax could be significant in terms of persuading other states to either revisit or introduce similar bills. Nationwide, opioids continue to drive an epidemic that was responsible for more than 52,000 deaths in 2015, according tot the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 2,000 Californians died from drug overdose as a result of prescription opioids in 2014, according to the California Department of Public Health.