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Lawmaker proposes tax on addictive opioid drugs

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published March 24, 2017

JUNEAU — A new bill from Sitka Democratic Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins would use a tax in an attempt to reduce Alaskans' consumption of addictive opioid painkillers.

Kreiss-Tomkins' legislation, House Bill 196, would levy a 1-cent tax on imports or manufacture of each "morphine milligram equivalent" — a standard measure for opioid dosages. It wouldn't apply to drugs used to treat opioid addiction, like methadone.

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, at a meeting this week with reporters. (Nathaniel Herz / Alaska Dispatch News)

An aide to Kreiss-Tomkins said the proposal could raise as much as $5 million a year, based on prescriptions written in the state.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that opioid prescriptions not exceed 90 morphine milligrams equivalent a day, which suggests that the daily cost, if passed to patients, wouldn't exceed $1.

Kreiss-Tomkins said the bill could produce cash to help the state pay for drug treatment and encourage medical workers to be more deliberate when prescribing opioids.

"When you tax something, just as we tax tobacco and we tax marijuana, you're kind of giving notice that this is something that should be treated with a bit more regard and intentionality because it has societal implications — and has the potential to grievously harm people's lives," Kreiss-Tomkins said in an interview.

Kreiss-Tomkins said he isn't worried about the costs of the tax being transferred to consumers or insurers, pointing to Alaska's already high cost of health care.

"This is like someone throwing a small pebble into the Pacific Ocean," he said.

Alaska's epidemic of opioid abuse has emerged as a focus in this year's legislation. A separate bill from Gov. Bill Walker would institute new education requirements for medical workers, limits on prescriptions and more aggressive monitoring.