Opioid crisis

This photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen, also known as Percocet, in New York.

Patrick Sison, Associated Press

Deep within the state budget proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a proposal to tax opioid prescriptions to raise money for opioid prevention and recovery programs.

The tax would be 2 cents per milligram of active opioid ingredient. On a five-day prescription of 60 milligrams per day, that would come to an extra $6.

One potential drawback of the proposal is it would raise the cost of opioid painkillers, which, despite all the damage they have done, have a legitimate and valuable medical use.

It isn’t the prescribing of opioid painkillers that has caused the current addiction epidemic, it’s the over-prescribing of them and the abuse of them by patients.

Taxing useful painkillers is not a great idea, unless you can get even more benefit out of the money raised. In this case, with thousands of people struggling with addiction statewide and the death toll rising, the emergency nature of the problem compels us to try, without delay, whatever strategies we can.

So we support a prescription opioid tax, as long as it is not so large it makes legitimate prescriptions prohibitively expensive.

Some have argued that another benefit of an opioid tax is that, like a cigarette tax, it will discourage demand for the pills — especially illegal demand — by making them more expensive. This argument makes little sense.

Adding a few dollars to the cost of a bottle of pills is unlikely to affect demand in any way. Besides, those who become addicted to pills can switch to street drugs like heroin that are easier to obtain, and that is exactly what we have seen happening in the current epidemic.

If the state is going to tax opioids, the money collected must go into a dedicated fund, not the general fund. Robert Mujica, Cuomo’s budget director, said a 2-cent tax could raise $125 million for the state’s Opioid Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Fund, but that is true only if legislation dedicates the money to that fund.

We know from experience that state officials, including Gov. Cuomo, do not hesitate to raid funds and use money for purposes that differ widely from the legislative intent. New York has received hundreds of millions of dollars from the settlement of lawsuits against tobacco companies, money that was supposed to fuel anti-smoking campaigns. The vast majority of the money, however, has been used for other state spending.

The only way we should accept an opioid prescription tax is if every dollar raised goes toward the battle against opioid addiction. Such a tax won’t solve the problem by itself, but it will help pay for the large effort needed to put this deadly genie back in its bottle.

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rob Forcey, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle, Controller/Operations Director Brian Corcoran and citizen representatives Bob Tatko, Carol Merchant and Eric Mondschein.

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