Governor: Drugmakers should pay “opioid fee” to fund addiction recovery

Gov. Phil Murphy is calling on New Jersey lawmakers to approve a new “opioid fee” on pharmaceutical companies that make or distribute opioids, saying the tax would hold them accountable for their role in the deadly opioid crisis while simultaneously generating money to help the state fund recovery programs.

Murphy discussed his proposed fee during a news conference today at HomeFront‘s Family Campus in Ewing. Attending in support were Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton’s Director of Operations Susan Loughery and other Catholic Charities staffers, along with state and local lawmakers, state health officials, and social service providers who work in addiction treatment.

The fee is part of the governor’s $38.6 billion budget plan for fiscal year 2020. That budget already includes $100 million for opioid recovery; the opioid fee would raise at least $21.5 million toward that amount, Murphy said.

Clock is ticking

Lawmakers have until midnight this Sunday to pass a budget. The fee would require legislation.

“Our budget asked the big opioid manufacturers and distributors whose products and marketing have contributed to the epidemic to kick in $21.5 million toward that $100 million that New Jersey will be spending on our anti-addiction efforts,” Murphy said. “I don’t think that asking companies with billions of dollars in collective profits to split a modest 20 percent share of our overall spend is at all out of line for all the pain the opioid epidemic has caused. I believe it is something that a broad section of New Jersey would consider as simple fairness.”

Murphy continued: “And yet the Legislature’s budget gives them a pass. It asks, in fact, from them nothing. The Legislature has protected the opioid industry’s interests and profits and put the entire $100 million burden of our entire opioid program squarely on the shoulders of New Jersey taxpayers. With so many things elsewhere in the Legislature’s budget, this omission leads one to ask a very simple question, once again: Whose side are you on? I’m on the side of our taxpayers and of the countless families living day to day in the midst of the opioid epidemic. The opioid manufacturers and distributors must be asked to pay their fair share.”

New Jersey is one of at least a dozen states, including New York and Delaware, that have tried to hold drugmakers accountable by helping to cover the cost of addiction treatment through opioid fees, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.  Pharmaceutical companies have fought them rigorously, and none have successfully been enacted.

A deadly toll

The opioid epidemic continues killing people across the Garden State, with more than 1,100 people fatally overdosing on drugs already this year in New Jersey. Another 3,300-plus dodged death, thanks to the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, according to state data.

Murphy’s opioid fee proposal drew applause from the standing room-only crowd at the news conference.

“This is life and death. The revenues raised by this measure represent an opportunity to save a loved one, a friend, even yourself,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal (pictured at podium, left).

Many of those watching were women enrolled in For My Baby and Me, an innovative addiction-treatment program for homeless pregnant women and new mothers in Mercer County.

Catholic Charities collaborates with five community partners to provide the program, including Capital Health, HomeFront, the Rescue Mission of Trenton, the Henry J. Austin Health Center, and the Trenton Health Team. See a video on the program here.

‘A fight worth fighting’

Lisa Merritt is Catholic Charities’ director of nursing and has seen dozens of women successfully recover through For My Baby and Me. She praised the governor’s plan as a critical tool in the fight against addiction.

“Thanks to much-needed state support, our For My Baby and Me program has held families together who otherwise would have been torn apart by addiction,” Merritt said. “Seeing that sort of success definitely makes this a fight worth fighting.”

The governor’s news conference came four months after his wife, First Lady Tammy Murphy, visited HomeFront to learn about For My Baby and Me and meet the mothers enrolled in the program. Mrs. Murphy launched an initiative, Nurture NJ, earlier this year to improve maternal and infant health statewide.

Besides For My Baby and Me, Catholic Charities offers a variety of programs to support addiction recovery and prevention for teenagers and adults, including New Choices, Partial Care, Project Free, Familia Latina, and more.

Watch the full news conference below:

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For more information: For questions about MAT or the Capital Health partnership, call (609) 396-4557; or Dana DiFilippo, Catholic Charities communications, ddifilippo@cctrenton.org or (609) 394-5181, ext. 1153.

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