As states scramble to find solutions to the deadly opioid crisis — killing up to 130 Americans per day — some are considering an excise tax on prescription opioids.
Likely taking from past government moves of taxing cigarettes and alcohol, the states are wrong-headed in their approach. While on the surface it looks like a deterrent for a harmful substance, the intention is lost in the reality that drug abusers won't be the ones affected by the tax.
Thirty-eight percent of those with a substance-use disorder receive their drugs from a prescription but the majority of those buy or get them for free from friends, family or drug dealers. An excise tax won't affect this massive subset of users, but it will unfairly burden other groups. These include those with legitimate chronic pain problems or fatal illnesses using the opioids for their intended purpose.
Additionally, a tax would really just make drugs more expensive and cause insurance companies to raise their rates on everyone, causing healthcare prices overall to rise.
A tax may feel like a step in the right direction, but it's actually doing nothing to curb the current major issue, which is synthetic opioids like Fentanyl being sold on the streets. Believe it or not, a tax may actually increase this problem with high drug prices forcing people to the streets to get the drugs they need to supply their addiction.
States certainly need money to help fight the opioid crisis, but getting that funding from taxes is not a good idea. Neither is suing drug companies, which some states have attempted to do, placing blame where it doesn't belong and blurring the lines on separation of powers. Additionally, these drugs are FDA-approved legal and the majority of overdose deaths today happen to individuals who were never prescribed medication and either got it from a friend or bought it on the street.
Lawsuits and excise taxes are costly to taxpayers and ultimately help no one in the process. While these ideas are marketed with good intention, they are ultimately dangerous and should be avoided. The best way to fight this crisis is to use existing funds in more effective, targeted ways that work best in each, individual state.