Minnesota lawmakers seek day of reckoning for drug industry over opioids

Minnesota lawmakers, including two whose children died because of drug addictions, are proposing dramatically increased fees on drug companies to fund opioid addiction prevention and treatment efforts.

The fees, which manufacturers and distributors must pay to do business in the state, would increase from $235 per year to $500,000 in some cases under a Senate bill. Similar legislation in the House does not include a cap on the fees.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is looking to raise $20 million – $12 million from manufacturers and $8 million from distributors – to fund treatment and prevention.

“This is your contribution to the state,” said state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center. “We’re spending billions on an issue you helped create. I don’t think we’re asking for a whole lot.”

The drug industry has signaled its opposition. At a committee hearing on the House bill this week, a representative for generic drug makers said the fees would fall unfairly upon generics.

“Generic manufacturers did not create opioids, did not market them, did not pay physicians, are highly regulated and only manufacturer that the DEA allows,” Judy Cook, a representative for the Association for Accessible Medicines, told lawmakers.

PhRMA, an organization that represents the drug industry, said it was committed to working with lawmakers but said the Minnesota bill was not the right approach.

“What’s being proposed—taxing legitimately prescribed medicines that patients rely on for legitimate medical needs to raise revenues for the state—ignores evidence-based solutions, sets a dangerous precedent and ultimately won’t help patients and families,” said Nick McGee, a spokesman for the organization.

State Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, and state Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, are supporting the legislation after losing children to addiction. Eaton’s daughter died in 2007.

“Everybody was traumatized by her loss. And that happened to 400 families last year, just from opioids,” Eaton told reporters at a news conference this week. “We don’t want to do that to this generation.”

The legislation is similar to a bill last year that would’ve imposed a penny-a-pill fee on drug companies. That effort failed to pass the Legislature, but supporters said more stakeholders are supporting this year’s measure.

Eaton and Rosen said the pharmaceutical companies have sent representatives to lawmakers’ offices this year to meet about the bill – something the companies did not do in years past, the lawmakers said – but have not proposed any alternatives that would curb the opioid crisis.

“My plea to them is that you can be part of this. You can help us with this. Help us figure out how we’re going to save the next family and child,” Rosen said.