I grew up during the opioid epidemic. I watched one friend struggle with addiction after being raised by her grandmother because her father struggled with substance use disorder. Another friend experienced unthinkable trauma growing up in a home afflicted by addiction, later struggling with substance use disorder himself. In college, I comforted a different friend when her boyfriend passed out in a car as a result of his addiction.

A third of Americans have been directly touched by the opioid epidemic, and our state has been particularly hard hit by addiction. We have one of the highest rates of opiate-related overdose deaths in the country.  While we’re losing Mainers to this epidemic, children are also being born into it: An average of three infants are born each day affected by their mothers’ drug use.

Recognizing this public health crisis, Gov. Mills has proposed directing $5.5 million toward relief efforts. That’s a great start, but advocates working on the ground, including Maine’s director of opioid response, Gordon Smith, suggest that we could effectively spend 10 times that amount. If we are serious about addressing the crisis of substance use disorder in Maine, we need to take a hard look at possible revenue sources.

Until now, Maine taxpayers have borne the costs of this epidemic. Addiction has strained our communities, from our schools to our child protective system to our hospitals to our criminal justice system.

Americans are calling for drug companies to help combat the epidemic. According to a recent National Public Radio survey, more than 70 percent of people say pharmaceutical companies should help pay for addiction treatment services. I agree, and I’ve put forth a plan in Maine to do just that.

My bill, L.D. 1362, would create an excise tax paid by pharmaceutical companies manufacturing opioids dispensed in Maine. The tax revenue would be used to create a dedicated fund for opioid addiction relief efforts, including treatment and prevention. This tax is not an unprecedented idea. Similar legislation has passed this year in New York, and in Delaware the governor’s signature will soon make this a law.

The tax will be collected in two tiers: one-quarter of a cent per morphine milligram equivalent for generic drugs and one penny per morphine milligram equivalent for name-brand drugs.This could bring in an additional $5 million, allowing us to double our opioid addiction relief efforts over the next two-year budget cycle.

For many people afflicted with substance use disorder, prescription drugs were the starting point. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, four out of five new heroin users first used prescription opioids (often drugs that were prescribed for someone else).

The proposed tax would have a minimal impact on pharmaceutical companies. According to research from health care economist Jeromie Ballreich of Johns Hopkins University, companies will incur this tax without its adversely affecting drug prices at the pharmacy counter and without players leaving the market in Maine.

For those who become dependent on prescription opioids, affordability and accessibility determine how they access their next dose. Heroin is more affordable and more widely available than prescription medications, but it comes with additional risks, especially when mixed with fentanyl. As a result, people transition to these illicit substances, and a rising number of young adults ages 25 to 34 are written death certificates.

Opiate medication can be a vital part of a treatment plan for patients who are managing pain. That said, opiates are also highly addictive, and there are public health dangers associated with their widespread use. In recognition of this, our state has put a number of safeguards in place, including our prescription monitoring program and prescription limits. These efforts have reduced the amount of opiate medication that can be abused or enter the black market.

While we’re moving in the right direction, we are only just beginning to heal the effects of opiate addiction in Maine. Mainers are shouldering the burden of this epidemic, from lives lost to public dollars spent. It’s time to make the pharmaceutical companies who manufacture opiates a partner in addressing the opioid epidemic here in Maine.

We must do more to help those who have already fallen victim, and this tax will generate the funding to do just that.


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