Opioid Crisis In America: State Lawmakers Propose New Laws To Make Drug Companies Pay For Starting An Epidemic

As states take action, drug companies strike back with money and lobbyists to stop new laws from being implemented.

Opioid crisis in the U.S. may have been started by drug companies.
John Moore / Getty Images

As states take action, drug companies strike back with money and lobbyists to stop new laws from being implemented.

Killing an average of 100 people a day, the opioid overdose crisis in America is out of control. As the tide of deaths continues to rise, lawmakers across the country are demanding drug companies bear the brunt of responsibility for possibly creating the epidemic in the first place.

In an article reported by the Washington Times, new proposed laws in 15 states will make drug manufacturers pay for drug addiction prevention and treatment programs. The bills, all of which have bipartisan support, will attach new taxes and other fees to prescription painkillers.

Most health experts contend the opioid overdose crisis started in the 1990s with the overprescribing of addictive painkillers and the overzealous marketing tactics of companies that make these drugs. Montana Senator Roger Webb believes these new laws will make the manufacturers directly accountable for a widespread health catastrophe that now kills over 40,000 people annually.

“You’re creating the problem,” said Sen. Webb. “You’re going to fix it.”

With states like Montana and Minnesota jostling to get these laws passed, drug companies and distributors are pushing back. Industry representatives claim new taxes and fees will only increase the cost of drugs, an extra expense that will just be passed onto the customer.

“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,” said Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spokeswoman Priscilla VanderVeer. “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.”

Opioid overdoses across America are increasing.
Cities across the nation are experiencing an out of control opioid overdose epidemic. Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Drug industry representatives also say companies like Pfizer and Purdue already give huge rebates for Medicaid-funded drugs. The allowances give states billions of dollars that could be redirected toward drug overdose treatment programs. According to a Chicago Tribune report, some representatives even argue additional taxes and fees would likely prevent some patients from getting the drugs they desperately need.

Minnesota Representative Dave Baker wants opioid makers to pay for treatment programs out of pocket, not through rebate programs. According to Baker, whose son died from a prescription painkiller overdose, the rebates are not meant to pay for treatment programs. They were put in place to refund money owed to the states for drugs that were previously overpriced by manufacturers and distributors.

While state legislators are moving to make opioid makers responsible for the current crisis, the industry continues to use its vast wealth to combat such actions. Nearly $880 million was spent from 2006 to 2015 to influence politicians to vote against measures that increase taxes and fees for drug makers. So far, the tactic is working successfully as many new bills get stuck in committee or die before ever becoming law.