Sen. Stephanie Hansen, -Middletown, introduced a bill that would require opioid makers to help fund substance abuse treatment. The lead sponsor in the House is Rep. David Bentz, D-Christiana.

Delaware would become one of the first states to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the opioid crisis under legislation introduced last week by state Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown.

Senate Bill 34 would force some of the nation’s largest drug makers to help cover the cost of addiction in the First State by creating an opioid impact fee, a small levy assessed per milligram morphine equivalent (MME). Money collected from the fee then would be directed to a special fund created by the bill to help those suffering from substance abuse disorder get the treatment they need.

“For too long, these companies have reaped record profits while avoiding responsibility for the pain and suffering their products have caused,” said Hansen, the bill’s prime sponsor in the Senate. “With this bill, we will begin holding these companies accountable by forcing them to direct some of that revenue toward breaking the cycle of abuse, addiction and death.”

Co-sponsored by 18 Democrats and three Republicans, the legislation is aimed at saving lives now being lost to the opioid crisis. Every year since 2009, more Delawareans have been killed by drug overdoses than motor vehicle crashes, including 112 opioid-related deaths in 2016 alone.

The state is battling this issue on multiple fronts. New regulations adopted in 2017 are helping to reduce the number of new opioid prescriptions and Delaware is one of roughly 30 states currently suing opioid manufacturers for misleading doctors and consumers about the dangers of their products. Meanwhile, Gov. John Carney and the Legislature are working together to support programs aimed at preventing abuse, increasing the availability of life-saving Narcan and expanding treatment options available in our state.

An opioid impact fee would provide another powerful tool in that effort, which is why the advocacy group AtTAcK Addition has been pushing for the measure since 2015.

“For far too long the opioid manufacturers have profited, while our citizens incurred the burden and cost of this public health crisis that has been the cause of so many unnecessary deaths," said board member David Humes. “AtTAcK Addiction is grateful that Senator Hansen has been a champion of this bipartisan effort.”

Rep. David Bentz, D-Christiana, the bill’s lead sponsor in the House, said he is tired of reading heartbreaking stories of families who have lost loved ones to the addiction epidemic.

“While we remain committed to fighting this battle with everything we have, there is always more we can do,” he said. “Establishing this opioid impact fee would meet that challenge by raising dedicated funds for addiction prevention, treatment programs and lifesaving drugs that can save a person who overdoses. This epidemic was largely brought on by prescription opioids, so it’s only fair that that same industry be part of the solution.”

The levy created by the bill would establish a two-tier fee paid only by those opioid manufacturers whose products are of the highest strength and/or most widely dispensed in our state, based on data already collected by Delaware’s Prescription Monitoring Program.

Every three months, those manufacturers would be billed one penny per every morphine milligram equivalent of their brand-name opioid dispensed in the state and one-quarter of a cent for every MME of their generic opioid sold here.

State officials estimate the fee would generate more than $8 million over the next three years to help fund enrollment in residential treatment programs for the uninsured and underinsured, expand treatment options statewide and conduct research on effective opioid treatments. The fund would be administered by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services with input from the Behavioral Health Consortium, Addiction Action Committee and the Overdose System of Care.

So far, at least 14 other states have introduced similar legislation. Only New York has passed such a measure, although its law is currently being challenged by opioid manufacturers and distributors based on limitations on how those businesses could recoup their costs – language not included in SB 34.

“While the money raised by an opioid impact fee will make a tremendous difference for Delawareans suffering from addiction, it won’t put the slightest dent in the bottom line for individual drug companies,” Hansen said. “Any claims to the contrary are a clear indication that profit is being given greater value than the lives of our children and families.”