Big Pharma Fights Lawmakers Over Opioid Taxes

By Paul Fuhr 05/03/18

Drug companies argue that they would have to raise prescription drug prices if they were forced to pay fees and taxes on opioids.

two businessmen fighting

Minnesota lawmakers are proposing a controversial new approach to help curb opioid addiction.

According to the Associated Press, state officials plan to force drug manufacturers and distributors to pay for opioid treatment and addiction prevention—a move they believe could significantly drive down the rising death toll from drug overdoses. 

There are similar bills in states like Delaware where fees and taxes on prescription painkillers have been introduced, which would purportedly result in “millions of dollars [funneled] toward treatment and prevention programs.”

Still, pharmaceutical companies argue that taxation isn’t the solution and, in many ways, could make current problems even worse. Drug reps caution that cancer patients, for one, might not get the prescriptions they desperately need under Minnesota’s proposed strategy.

Prescription drug taxes would also drive up costs, which patients and taxpayers would be hit with.

“We have been engaged with states to help move forward comprehensive solutions to this complex public health crisis and in many cases have seen successes,” Priscilla VanderVeer, a Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spokesperson, said. “However, we do not believe levying a tax on prescribed medicines that meet legitimate medical needs is an appropriate funding mechanism for a state’s budget.”

Still, drug manufacturers across the country currently find themselves besieged by lawsuits as state and local governments increasingly seek damages caused by the opioid epidemic.

As the AP observed, the lawsuits have been ramped up in response to public health experts who insist that the crisis began “because of overprescribing and aggressive marketing” of opioids, beginning in the 1990s.

In Minnesota, deaths from opioid overdoses increased by 12% from 2015 to 2016.

And even though the state’s overdose rate is lower than most other states (opioids claimed nearly 400 lives there in 2016), the Land of 10,000 Lakes remains aggressive about its proposed opioid tax.

After all, states need all the help they can get when it comes to funding anti-addiction programs, advocacy group leader David Humes told the AP: “When you think about the fact that each year more people are dying, if you leave the money the same, you’re not keeping up with this public health crisis.”

Delaware Senator Stephanie Hansen said that while drug companies have assured her that they’ve contributed $500,000 to anti-addiction programs, it’s not nearly enough. 

“My response is, ‘That’s wonderful, but we’re not stopping there,’” she said, adding that, had it been approved, her state’s proposed opioid tax measure would have brought in nearly $9 million last year.

Minnesota lawmakers have taken the same position, remaining resolute about the future despite their frustration with drug manufacturers’ inaction.

A 2016 investigation conducted by the AP discovered that drug companies spent nearly $900 million between 2006 and 2015 on lobbying and politics alone—a fact that didn’t escape Minnesota Senator Julie Rosen: “[Drug companies] know that they’re spending way too much money on defending their position instead of being part of the solution.” 

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.