Courtesy of the West Haven mayor's office
Sen. Chris Murphy discusses the bill with West Haven officials (Courtesy of the West Haven mayor’s office)

WEST HAVEN, CT — U.S. Sens Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal are co-sponsors of new legislation that would place a fee on opioid ingredients to fund expansion of substance abuse treatment.

The fee, a penny on each milligram of active opioid ingredient in a prescription pain pill, would raise approximately $1 billion each year, according to Murphy, who added the bill’s goal is to have the cost picked up mostly by health insurers or maybe even the drug companies, not the patients.

Murphy said the new legislation is badly needed in Connecticut, where the opioid epidemic continues to grow. In Connecticut, deaths caused by drug overdoses have skyrocketed. In 2016, 917 Connecticut residents died from an overdose, a 25 percent increase from 2015.

The Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment Act also known as LifeBOAT was introduced earlier this month by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia. Blumenthal and Murphy are co-sponsors, along with eight other senators.

The senators, in introducing the bill, said the funding would be used to, to establish new addiction treatment facilities; recruit, train or increase reimbursement for mental health providers providing substance use disorder treatment; expand access to long-term, residential treatment programs; establish or operate substance abuse treatment programs in conjunction with adult and family treatment drug courts.

“I’ve met with individuals struggling with addiction and the doctors and law enforcement who care for them – their message is clear: we can’t beat this epidemic without more funding,” Murphy said.

“The LifeBOAT Act is exactly the kind of innovative funding vehicle we need to expand recovery programs so that we can this epidemic off at the knees,” Murphy added.

Blumenthal said the epidemic has caused endless pain and suffering in Connecticut and throughout the county.

“We must utilize every tool in our arsenal to fight back and provide communities, families, and individual patients with the resources they need to deliver and access life-saving prevention and treatment services. This bill will bolster our efforts to get patients the resources and results they so urgently need, and deserve,” Blumenthal said.

On Thursday, Murphy, along with West Haven Mayor Ed O’Brien met with officials in West Haven where 21 people died last year due to drug overdoses, to discuss the proposed legislation.

Talking about LifeBOAT, Murphy said the legislation would “assess a very small fee on prescription pain medication” but because of the “dramatic spike in prescription pain medication that, as you know, often leads to addiction, a 1 cent per milligram fee on prescription pain medication would net a billion dollars.”

Murphy conceded, however, “I don’t know that the bill has a great chance of passing because it is an innovative approach and the drug companies are going to fight against it.”

The bill would allow exceptions to the stewardship fee for prescription drugs containing opioid ingredients that are used exclusively for the treatment of opioid addiction as part of a medically assisted treatment.

It would also allow for a discount or rebate for patients being treated for cancer-related pain and hospice patients.

In proposing the bill, Manchin said: “In 2015, more than 33,000 people died from heroin or prescription opioid overdose; on average 91 people die every day. Worse yet, this trend is moving in the wrong direction.”

He said 15 percent more died in 2015 than in 2014.

“We’ve lost almost 200,000 Americans to prescription opioid abuse since 1999. We must take action to stop this epidemic,” Manchin said. “Unfortunately, a major barrier that those suffering from opioid addiction face is insufficient access to substance abuse treatment. In fact, between 2009 and 2013, only 22 percent of Americans suffering from opioid addiction participated in any form of addiction treatment.”

Accidental drug intoxication deaths in Connecticut over the past five years have spiked each year, starting with 357 in 2012; 495 in 2013; 568 in 2014; 729 in 2015; and 917 last year. There were more than 2.5 times as many deaths in 2016 than there were in 2012.
Not surprisingly, most of the deaths were in the state’s largest cities.

Ninety-eight of the deaths were in Hartford, 77 in New Haven, 67 in Bridgeport, 51 in Waterbury, 37 in New Britain, 32 in Bristol, 24 in Meriden, and 21 in West Haven, according to data from the Chief Medical Examiner.

Last year, in the final weeks of his presidency, Barack Obama signed into law the Mental Health Reform Act, which includes $1 billion in emergency funding to address the opioid and heroin crisis, and increased investments in cancer treatment and medical research.
The bill was co-authored by Murphy.