Minnesota renews push for tax on prescription opioids

FILE PHOTO: A needle used for shooting heroin and other opioids lies in the street in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton speaks to media in St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S. on July 20, 2011. REUTERS/Eric Miller/File Photo

By Chris Kenning

(Reuters) - Citing rising opioid fatalities, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton on Wednesday announced a renewed legislative proposal to tax prescription opioid pills to help fund treatment.

Minnesota is one of at least 13 states to have considered an opioid tax in recent years to help pay for the fallout from the United States' opioid epidemic, although none have passed, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Dayton's proposal would levy a one-cent tax on drugmakers for each milligram of active ingredient in a prescription pain pill, generating an estimated $20 million a year for prevention, policing, emergency response and treatment.

Dayton last fall blamed "special corporate interests" for blocking a similar proposal in 2017.

"We must take decisive action in this legislative session to reduce abuses and to ensure that all Minnesotans suffering from these addictions receive the treatment and support they need," Dayton, a Democrat, said in a statement.

The efforts come as a growing number of states and counties are suing opioid manufacturers to recoup costs of a worsening epidemic. In December, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the U.S. rate of drug overdose deaths in 2016 grew 21 percent from the prior year.

Minnesota had 395 opioid overdose deaths in 2016, an 18 percent increase over the previous year.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a national trade association, said the proposal could divert money for developing new non-opioid painkillers and medication-assisted addiction treatments.

"It’s clear that 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," association spokesman Nick McGee said in a statement.

Dayton's proposed measure, part of a larger effort to boost treatment, access to overdose medications and enforcement, will be debated in the legislative session starting Feb. 20.

“I don’t see any reason why the taxpayers should have to pay to fix this. I believe (pharmaceutical companies) owe reparations,” State Senator Chris Eaton said Wednesday during a news conference, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

Andrew Kolodny, an opioid policy researcher at Brandeis University, said the tax is a good way to increase treatment.

"I don't think we're going to see overdose deaths start to come down until we do a better job of expanding access to effective outpatient treatment," he said.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Susan Thomas and Lisa Shumaker)

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