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Cuomo proposes opioid tax to pay for drug epidemic


One of the new sources of revenue included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed executive budget is an opioid epidemic surcharge. The 2 cent tax per milligram of active opioid ingredient on pills would be levied on drug manufacturers.

Robert Mujica, Cuomo's budget director, says it could help accomplish two important goals, including raising $125 million for the Opioid Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Fund.

"It offsets our costs," Mujica said. "We’re spending over $200 million this year on the epidemic. It’s an increase over last year. But also we want to discourage opioid use. So similar to a tax on cigarettes, if it gets too expensive to use those drugs, perhaps they will move on to other, less addictive drugs."

The tax would help pay for more treatment slots in recovery programs, recovery centers and prevention campaigns.

Jim Scordo, executive director of Watertown's drug treatment clinic Credo Community Center, said it is a great idea to make pharmaceutical companies contribute to the solution to this problem. 

"I’m hopeful that they are going to take responsibility for this and say we were part of the problem here and we have made an awful lot of money off of this," Scordo said. "We need additional dollars for prevention and treatment efforts. This is an epidemic like no other one we have seen and it needs additional funding to be able to provide the care that’s necessary, and increase awareness through prevention efforts." 

Some are concerned that much like tobacco taxes, the increased costs would ultimately be passed onto individuals.

Brian Johnson, president of the Onondaga County Medical Society, says that would likely add up to $6 on a five-day subscription of 60 milligrams per day. But Johnson says that's a step in the right direction to ending the over-prescription of opioids.

"Should they be used for acute pain? Yes, sometimes. Should they be used for chronic pain? Never. So something that helps people stop using them for chronic pain is a good move by Gov. Cuomo," Johnson said.

Mujica says the state will have limitations built in to control the costs of drugs so manufacturers have to pay the tax, but he did not offer specifics. 

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.