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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013, more than 50 percent of drug overdose deaths in the United States were related to prescription drugs. Of these fatalities, 70 percent involved prescription painkillers. In 2014, more than 2,000 people died of opioid overdoses in California alone.1

These pressing public health threats have prompted California to introduce legislation to reduce these high mortality rates. The law intends to generate painkiller tax revenue to fund more county-level addiction treatment services.

Proposed Legislation to Fund Rehab through Painkiller Tax

In March 2017, a California assembly member introduced legislation AB 1512 that calls for new taxes on prescription opioid medications. The painkiller tax revenue would be used to offset the costs of addiction and substance abuse rehabilitation. California legislator Kevin McCarty, who is sponsoring the bill, said the law would institute a 1-cent per milligram state tax on prescription opioids.

The tax money would specifically be used to fund addiction prevention, substance abuse treatment, and rehab programs. The tax would apply to opioid prescription wholesalers and possibly manufacturers, but not to consumers directly.

Will the Tax Negatively Impact Those Who Need Painkillers?

Some critics of the legislation point out that people who buy opioids illegally won’t be affected by the new tax, and that legal purchasers would be the ones affected. One emergency room doctor who spoke publicly pointed out that consumers will end up paying the tax in higher prescription costs or higher insurance premiums.2 McCarty did concede that, despite the fact the tax isn’t directed towards consumers, the impact would be minimal to them at about several dollars a month.

In 2013, California public health officials reported that more than 11,000 people—32 people per day—were admitted to state emergency rooms for treatment of overdose and other conditions involving opioids. McCarty believes that since the state’s opioid epidemic has cost state taxpayers substantial amounts of money and lost lives, more must be done to help people find recovery. The tax plan is meant to give counties the funds needed to decrease opioid and heroin addiction among California residents.

Opposers of the bill argue that people with chronic pain conditions, buying legitimately obtained painkillers, will unfairly shoulder a heavier burden when costs rise. Also, those legally buying and responsibly using prescription painkillers are forced into paying for rehab for those avoiding the tax by buying painkillers illegally.

Who Is Affected by Opioid Abuse?

While the discussion continues around what measures are needed to help decrease opioid abuse, there is assuredly a real epidemic across the United States regarding illegal and legal opioids. A CDC report notes that prescription opioid overdoses is a driving factor in the increase in overall opioid overdose deaths over a 15-year period.3

The CDC reports that 91 Americans die every day due to an opioid overdose. Opioid-related fatalities continue to increase in the United States each year. Most drug overdose deaths involve a legal or illegal opioid. Since 1999, the number of people who died from an opioid overdose has quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 people died as a result of a drug overdose.


  1. https://a07.asmdc.org/press-releases/assemblymember-kevin-mccarty-announces-legislation-tackle-california%E2%80%99s-opioid
  2. http://abc7.com/health/painkiller-tax-proposed-in-ca-to-help-pay-for-rehab-services/1782217/
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/
California Legislation: Painkiller Tax to Help Pay for Rehab
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