ALBANY—A national trade group representing the pharmaceutical industry is vehemently opposed to a proposal by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to levy a tax on opioids.
On Tuesday, during his annual budgetary address to the Legislature, Cuomo unveiled an “Opioid Epidemic Surcharge,” a 2-cent-per-morphine-milligram tax on opioids pharmaceutical companies sell in the state. The surcharge on opioids is expected to “provide a financial disincentive for the use of these drugs and generate roughly $125 million to support ongoing efforts to address the opioid crisis,” according to Cuomo’s budget briefing book.
“Opioid manufacturers have created an epidemic. We would have an opioid surcharge—2 cents per milligram [that] will be paid by the manufacturer and would go to offset the costs that we’re spending to fight opioid abuse,” Cuomo said during his Tuesday speech.
PhRMA, the powerful Washington-based advocacy group that represents pharmaceutical companies, blasted Cuomo’s proposal, arguing that the narrowed focus doesn’t take into consideration many other factors that have contributed to the spike of opioid use in the country.
“We are opposed to the proposed tax because it ignores all of the factors that resulted in the current crisis and unfairly penalizes and ostracizes vulnerable patients who legitimately rely on these medicines to treat serious, debilitating and sometimes fatal conditions,” said PhRMA spokeswoman Priscilla VanderVeer.
“The proposed tax also ignores the fact that this crisis is the result of a number of factors, including a deeply troubling influx of counterfeit fentanyl and other illegal drugs coming into the U.S. through drug trafficking organizations the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] is monitoring, which is contributing to an increase in overdose deaths.”
VanderVeer added that the organization “would welcome the opportunity” to meet with the Cuomo administration to come up with a plan to curb opioid use. Last fall, PhRMA announced support for some state and federal policies aimed at curbing abuse, including support for limiting opioid prescriptions to seven days for acute pain. In June 2016, the governor signed legislation into law that would reduce prescription limits for opioids for acute pain from 30 days to a seven-day supply.
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi countered PhRMA’s remarks, charging that the industry fueled the opioid epidemic.
“Big Pharma and the health insurance companies just got a big federal tax break while at the same time created the machine that fueled the opioid crisis. Spare me the song and dance about corporations crying poverty, like the tobacco companies, this money is going to help fight the problem they created,” Azzopardi said in an email.
Azzopardi did not immediately say whether the 2-cent surtax would apply to opioid medications used to treat addiction, such as methadone or buprenorphine.
Cuomo is not the first to propose such a tax. Nan Whaley, the Democratic mayor of Dayton, Ohio, who had been running for governor, proposed a similar surcharge on prescription opioids. Hillary Clinton, in her 2016 presidential campaign, endorsed the idea of a 1-cent-per-milligram tax on opioid prescriptions paid by the manufacturer or importer, according to an Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld compilation of the candidates’ tax proposals.
Earlier this month, during his State of the State address to the Legislature, Cuomo announced plans to sue pharmaceutical companies for “perpetuating the opioid epidemic.” The Democratic governor’s remarks come as a growing number of counties in New York and across the United States have sued the makers of opioid medications.
“[Pharmaceutical companies] were conveniently blind to the consequences of their action. They pumped these pills into society and created addiction. Like the tobacco industry they killed thousands. … We will make them pay,” Cuomo said earlier this month.