PROVIDENCE — The budget bill passed by the House of Representatives on Saturday includes the Opioid Stewardship Act, a program to fund opioid treatment, recovery prevention and education services. The program was introduced earlier in the session in separate legislation (2019-S 0798, 2019-H 6189) introduced by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio and House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello.

The measure establishes a fund to combat the opioid overdose crisis, financed by an assessment on opioid products sold or distributed in Rhode Island, prorated by market share, up to a cap of $5 million. The funds would be placed in a restricted receipt account to be used only for projects directly related to supporting substance use prevention, rescue, treatment and recovery.

“Studies on the origins of the opioid crisis tell us a clear story: The crisis got its start because pharmaceutical companies aggressively marketed opioids, insisting they were completely safe for widespread use, and profited handsomely from their uptake,” said Ruggerio, D- North Providence. “The Opioid Stewardship Act places the financial burden of addressing this crisis squarely where it belongs, upon the companies making many billions in profits.”

To ensure that any impact on consumers is limited, each company’s fee is based on its dollar-value market share from opioid sales in Rhode Island, not on the number of doses they sell. The $5 million total assessment across all companies could be spread among as many as 400 or more licensees, and is unlikely to affect any company in a way that jeopardizes its potential to make profit, the lawmakers said.

Opioids sold to hospice patients for palliative care purposes are exempt.

“The opioid epidemic has cost our state hundreds of lives in recent years. While we have been diligently working on every front to prevent addiction and overdoses, those efforts are very expensive. It’s appropriate to demand that those who have profited from these drugs help us to pay for the costs of preventing, treating and responding to addiction to them,” said Mattiello, D-Cranston.

It’s hard to determine the profits made by all opioid manufacturers but to get an idea, Purdue Pharma, maker of Oxycontin, had increased its earnings from a few billion in 2007 to $31 billion by 2016 and $35 billion by 2017. According to a 2017 article in The New Yorker, Purdue Pharma is “owned by one of America’s richest families, with a collective net worth of thirteen billion dollars.” That family, the Sacklers, paid themselves more than $4 billion from 2007 through last year, according to one of the ongoing lawsuits against them.

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