Merkley Introduces Bill to Increase Opioid Treatment Availability, Hold Drug Companies Accountable

Bill levies fees on companies that flooded the market with opioids and fueled the crisis to pay for a dramatic increase in treatment

US Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon)

US Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the wake of discoveries that the opioid epidemic is worsening due to the rise of synthetic opioids, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) today announced the Opioid Treatment Surge Act to fund a dramatic increase in treatment capacity funded by imposing fees on the drug companies that created the opioid crisis. 

This legislation would put substance abuse treatment in reach for struggling communities across the country, and more than double federal dollars allocated to Oregon by the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program.

“I have heard heart-wrenching stories from Oregonians who have lost loved ones after a prescription for an injury or treatment turned into an addiction,” said Merkley. “Drug companies jeopardized the health of every community in America when they flooded the streets with opioids to generate massive profits. They intentionally downplayed the addictiveness of opioid drugs and put millions of lives at risk. We need greater treatment resources across the nation, and it’s time for the drug companies to take responsibility for their role in creating this crisis by paying to treat the addictions they created.”

Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die from an opioid overdose. In 2017, the last full year of available opioid data, 1.7 million Americans experienced a substance use disorder stemming from opioid prescription drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 21 to 29 percent of patients who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.

The misuse of prescribed opioids has also led to an alarming uptick in illicit drug use. Four to six percent of those who misuse opioids turn to heroin and roughly 80 percent of heroin users previously misused prescription drugs. The integration of other synthetic opioids—like fentanyl, the leading cause of opioid related deaths—has further exacerbated the risks of drug addiction and led to more deaths. 

Drug companies irresponsibly fueled the opioid epidemic—and the destruction of subsequent waves of heroin and fentanyl-related drug deaths—by overprescribing and deploying aggressive marketing tactics that downplayed the addictive nature of their drugs. Merkley’s Opioid Treatment Surge Act would require those same drug companies to pay for additional treatment to address this crisis.

The bill would establish a $2 billion per year treatment surge for the next ten years, paid for by a fee on opioid manufacturers. The companies would pay each year’s assessment in proportion to their portion of overall opioid sales since 1999—the year the opioid crisis slowly began to build. The companies that manufactured the most opioids would pay the highest portion of the annual fee.

The bill provides exceptions to the fee for opioids used exclusively for the treatment of opioid addiction—as part of a medically-assisted treatment effort—or for those used by cancer or hospice patients.

Revenue from the $2 billion fee will go to the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program, which distributes noncompetitive grants to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, six Pacific jurisdictions, and one tribal entity, to prevent and treat substance abuse and promote public health.

Information about how the Opioid Treatment Surge Act would increase funding on a state-by-state basis follows below.

State FY18 Funding Under Merkley Bill
Alabama $23,356,917 $49,253,224
Alaska $6,154,694 $12,978,533
Arizona $40,644,307 $85,707,509
Arkansas $13,790,921 $29,081,207
California $254,706,548 $537,105,080
Colorado $29,045,376 $61,248,598
Connecticut $18,479,143 $38,967,359
Delaware $7,233,530 $15,253,498
Florida $111,656,028 $235,451,426
Georgia $57,423,236 $121,089,591
Hawaii $8,848,122 $18,658,222
Idaho $8,801,737 $18,560,409
Illinois $67,917,901 $143,219,913
Indiana $32,514,482 $68,563,975
Iowa $13,359,727 $28,171,939
Kansas $12,165,916 $25,654,524
Kentucky $20,645,520 $43,535,644
Louisiana $25,294,067 $53,338,134
Maine $7,233,530 $15,253,498
Maryland $34,348,574 $72,431,564
Massachusetts $40,114,281 $84,589,832
Michigan $56,323,757 $118,771,097
Minnesota $24,988,666 $52,694,128
Mississippi $14,070,016 $29,669,740
Missouri $26,816,271 $56,548,037
Montana $7,233,530 $15,253,498
Nebraska $7,907,045 $16,673,753
Nevada $17,270,184 $36,418,002
New Hampshire $7,233,530 $15,253,498
New Jersey $48,334,255 $101,923,465
New Mexico $9,831,121 $20,731,093
New York $112,106,839 $236,402,060
North Carolina $45,261,647 $95,444,192
North Dakota $6,799,236 $14,337,693
Ohio $64,807,533 $136,661,014
Oklahoma $17,416,147 $36,725,797
Oregon $20,845,513 $43,957,374
Pennsylvania $59,371,425 $125,197,779
Rhode Island $7,864,276 $16,583,565
South Carolina $23,985,271 $50,578,248
South Dakota $6,307,347 $13,300,436
Tennessee $32,246,615 $67,999,118
Texas $144,988,914 $305,741,187
Utah $16,855,328 $35,543,186
Vermont $6,725,555 $14,182,320
Virginia $42,249,325 $89,092,044
Washington $75,842,286 $159,930,231
West Virginia $8,698,568 $18,342,854
Wisconsin $27,465,848 $57,917,814
Wyoming $4,463,001 $9,411,225
American Samoa $369,188 $778,515
Guam $1,049,684 $2,213,491
Fed. Micronesia $284,243 $599,389
N. Marianas Isle. $356,527 $751,816
Marshal Islands $202,872 $427,800
Rep. Palau $77,395 $163,204
Puerto Rico $22,815,599 $48,111,736
Virgin Islands $680,998 $1,436,035
$1,803,880,112 $3,803,880,112

Press release provided from the office of US Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon.