State Politics

Lawmakers kill proposed tax on painkillers, meant to aid opioid recovery

OxyContin, in 80 mg pills.
OxyContin, in 80 mg pills. Los Angeles Times/TNS

The House Revenue and Taxation Committee killed a tax on legal opioids Friday that would have funded addiction and overdose treatment, though the lawmakers said they support the recovery programs.

The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, and Lynn Luker, R-Boise, would have placed a small tax on drugs such as oxycodone, prescribed to control pain. The committee overwhelmingly rejected the tax even as members testified that the state should fund the existing recovery centers around the state and other programs.

In 2015, 218 Idahoans died from overdoses, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Luker told the committee. More than 60 percent of the deaths were attributed to prescription painkillers and other opioids.

“The faces of this addiction is our colleagues, our neighbors and friends, family or children,” Luker said.

The bill would have placed a tax on a dose of painkiller at the rate of one-half cent per morphine milligram equivalent, which Luker said would come out to the cost of about 24 cents per day.

Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, said ultimately patients would pay the cost of this tax, not the companies that have contributed to the problem through aggressive marketing campaigns. And Luke Cavener, government affairs director for the American Cancer Society, said the cost would be especially burdensome to cancer patients.

The initial funding for Idaho’s opioid programs came from the Millennium Fund Committee, the endowment fund set up with Idaho’s share of proceeds from a 1990s nationwide tobacco settlement. But the committee that oversees spending of the fund voted to leave $11.5 million unspent this year.

Luker sought to get the committee to send the bill to the House for amendments, or to call for funding from the Millennium or general funds. But a motion supporting that died, leaving state and health district programs $3.8 million short.

“We need to take action,” said Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise. “We need to be responsible.”

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker