Penny Tax on Opioids Introduced in California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A California lawmaker wants to boost funding for drug addiction treatment centers through a landmark tax of prescription opioids such as OxyContin and Vicodin, which he says are driving the state’s drug epidemic.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, says his new proposal would tax drug wholesalers – but not directly pass costs to legal prescription users – while raising tens of millions of dollars for county addiction and rehabilitation centers.

“California’s opioid epidemic has cost state taxpayers millions and the lives of too many of our sons and daughters,” McCarty said in a statement.

Under Assembly Bill 1512, the state would mandate a penny-per-milligram tax on prescription opioids in an effort to help overburdened treatment centers. While similar legislation was proposed in Connecticut, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, if AB 1512 passes California would be the first state to enact the opioid tax.

McCarty points to a string of overdose and opioid-related statistics as inspiration for the prescription drug tax. He says California emergency rooms and treatment centers have been “flooded” over the last decade because of heroin and legal opioid use.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75 percent of heroin users began their addiction by abusing prescription drugs. In 2014, more than 2,000 Californians died from prescription opioid overdoses, according to the state Department of Public Health.

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

The Democrat’s proposal could face stiff opposition from heavily financed pharmaceutical and health care lobbyists.

Most recently, the pharmaceutical industry spent over $109 million to defeat a 2016 California ballot measure that would have capped certain prescription drug prices. The industry outspent Proposition 61 supporters nearly 6-1.

McCarty’s office said a copy of the bill was not available Thursday because the language is still being finalized by legislative counsel.