Assemblyman Proposes Tax On OxyContin, Prescription Opioids

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – A California lawmaker wants to tax OxyContin and other prescription opioids to fund rehabilitation services for people addicted to opioids and heroin.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty on Wednesday announced AB1512, a bill to create a 1 cent-per-milligram tax on prescription opioids.

If the bill passes, the Sacramento Democrat said California could be the first state to enact such a tax. Similar legislation has been proposed at the federal level and in three other states: Connecticut, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

McCarty’s office estimates the tax would generate tens of millions of dollars for addiction rehabilitation and prevention programs run by California counties.

More than 2,000 people died of opioid overdoses in California during 2014, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Nationwide, 91 people die every day from opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When taken regularly over extended periods of time or when used improperly, prescription opioids can be highly addictive, and abuse of prescription opioids has contributed to the rise in use of the illegal opioid drug heroin, according to the agency.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, introduced a bill last month to ban doctors from prescribing OxyContin, the brand name for the drug oxycodone, to people under age 21. That bill, SB 419, aims to protect children from exposure to the drug. If it passes, it could become the first legislation of its kind in the country, according to Portantino’s office.

McCarty’s bill would tax opioid prescription wholesalers but could also impact prices for manufacturers and insurers, McCarty said. The tax could also affect prices for consumers, depending on their health insurance plans. McCarty said his office estimates any impact on consumers would be roughly a few dollars per month.

“In my opinion, it’s a worthy price to pay,” McCarty said.

Opioid overdoses in California have resulted in costly emergency room visits, an issue the rehabilitation services McCarty’s bill would fund could help alleviate, he said.