Facing a rising death toll from drug overdoses, state lawmakers across the country are testing a strategy to boost treatment for opioid addicts: Force drug manufacturers and their distributors to pay for it.
Bills introduced in at least 15 states would impose taxes or fees on prescription painkillers. Several measures have bipartisan support and would funnel millions of dollars toward treatment and prevention programs.
In Montana, state Sen. Roger Webb, a Republican, sees the approach as a way to hold drugmakers accountable for an overdose epidemic that in 2016 claimed 42,000 lives in the U.S., a record. "You're creating the problem," he said. "You're going to fix it."
Public health experts say the crisis started because of overprescribing and aggressive marketing of the drugs that began in the 1990s.
Drugmakers and distributors argue that it would be wrong to tax prescription drugs, that the cost increases would eventually be absorbed by patients or taxpayers, and that there are other ways to pay for addiction treatment and prevention.
"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 spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade group, said in a statement. "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."