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Bill Would Tax Prescription Opioid Medications

News  |  By Doug Desjardins  
   March 13, 2017

The measure, which would fund addiction programs, is one of four bills unveiled in the California Assembly this year that target the pharmaceutical industry.

This story originally appeared in California Healthfax.

A bill introduced in the California State Assembly would tax prescription opioid medications and use the tax revenues to fund drug addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs.

Assembly Bill 1512, authored by assembly member Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), would assess a 1-cent-per-milligram tax on prescription opioid drugs and use the funds to support county programs to treat and prevent drug addiction.

The surcharge "would be placed on opioid prescription wholesalers" and not on consumers, McCarty said.

Obama's Drug Czar: The Opioid Crisis Must Continue To Be A Federal Priority

"California's opioid epidemic has cost state taxpayers millions and the lives of too many of our sons and daughters," he said.

"We must do more to help these individuals find hope and sobriety. This plan will provide counties with critical resources needed to curb the deadly cycle of opioid and heroin addiction in California."

McCarty cited statistics from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) that estimate 2,024 state residents died from prescription opioid overdoses in 2014. State legislators in Minnesota, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania have considered similar bills to tax opioid medications in the past, he said.

Pharma's Response
Will Zasadny, a spokesperson for the California Life Sciences Association, which represents pharmaceutical firms in California, said the group is monitoring AB 1512 but has not taken a formal position on the bill.

In the past, pharmaceutical manufacturers have usually opposed bills that tax prescription drugs or affect pricing in any way.

In the state Senate, Sen. Anthony J. Portantino (D-Flintridge) introduced a bill that would place new limits on prescriptions for oxycodone.

Senate Bill 419 would prohibit oxycodone prescriptions in California to be written for anyone under the age of 21.

"The abuse of this drug is a national epidemic and we need to protect our children from being prescribed this highly addictive substance," said Portantino.

"Lawmakers, regulators, and medical professionals have been wrestling with how best to control this synthetic heroin and … while we're looking for solutions, let's make sure we keep it away from our most vulnerable population."

The California Life Sciences Association said it opposes SB 419 and contends that it takes a "blunt instrument" approach to a complex problem.

"We are concerned about the impact of such a blunt instrument being applied to an issue as complex as how clinicians address pain in pediatric patients," said Zasadny.

Trump, Dems Look for Common Ground on Drug Prices

The two bills are part of a slate of four measures introduced this year that target the pharmaceutical industry.

In February, assembly member Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) introduced Assembly Bill 265, which would prohibit prescription drug manufacturers from distributing discount coupons for brand-name drugs when there is a less expensive, generic alternative available.

The coupons are a "marketing tool to drive patients to higher priced drugs," said Wood.

Another bill introduced this year would require drug manufacturers to explain prescription drug price hikes.

Senate Bill 17, authored by Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), would require manufacturers to provide state regulators and consumers with "information about the justification, if any, for the prices of newly emerging medications and price increases for existing medications."

Hernandez introduced a similar bill in 2016 but pulled it from consideration after it was amended in the state Assembly.

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