Penny-Per-Pill Fee From Drug Makers Proposed In Minnesota

By Paul Gaita 02/16/18

The "penny-a-pill" program could reportedly raise around $20 million a year for treatment and prevention efforts in the state.

a hand holding a penny

With opioid overdose death rates up 18% among Minnesota residents in 2016, Governor Mark Dayton wants drug manufacturers to pay a fee of approximately one penny per pill to help fund prevention and treatment efforts.

The proposal was announced as part of Dayton's Opioid Action Plan, an array of legislative strategies designed to curb opioid traffic in Minnesota while also providing increased support and treatment for recovery from opioid dependency. 

Joined by a bipartisan group of legislators on Wednesday (Feb. 14), Governor Dayton outlined the details of his Opioid Action Plan, which he developed with the assistance of health and law officials, as well as drug policy advocates.

The plan focuses on four key strategies: prevention through increased public awareness, better health record systems and safe disposal of medication; greater access to the opioid-reversal drug naloxone (Narcan); modernized treatment and recovery through increased medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and a new focus on substance abuse as a chronic disorder; and more support for law enforcement to curb the flow of opioids in Minnesota, including increased funding for justice system-based opioid dependency programs and equitable funding for drug courts. 

In addition to these areas of focus, Dayton proposed an Opioid Stewardship program, which would require opioid manufacturers to pay a base-level $0.01 stewardship fee on each milligram of active opioid ingredients in a prescription pain pill.

According to the governor's plan, the "penny-a-pill" measure would raise an estimated $20 million annually, which would be directed into treatment and recovery, prevention and emergency response programs across the state.

In a letter included with the Action Plan, Dayton wrote, "Our administration has already taken aggressive steps to reduce the flow of illicit opioids, improve treatment options, and support the people and areas affected," referring to legislation initiated by his administration to allow non-health care providers to administer naloxone, fund treatment for pregnant women with opioid dependency issues, and various grants to fund health care and treatment options.

"We must do far more to save lives and reduce the terrible harm to our communities," Dayton continued. "We must take decisive action in this Legislative Session to reduce abuses and to ensure that all Minnesotans suffering from these addictions receive the treatment and support they need." 

Dayton was joined at the Wednesday press conference by Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar) and Senator Chris Eaton (DFL-Brooklyn Center), both of whom have lost children to opioid dependency.

"I don't want to see other families go through what my family went through when we lost our son to an opioid addiction," said Baker. "Working across partisan divides, we can continue addressing opioid abuse in our state and help prevent opioid-related deaths. I look forward to working with the Governor and my colleagues in the Legislature to combat Minnesota's opioid abuse crisis this session."

Though Minnesota has the fifth-lowest opioid prescription rate in the United States, there are still 47 opioid prescriptions written for every 100 state residents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 2016 national rate was 66.5 opioid prescriptions for every 100 Americans.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.