EWING – Gov. Phil Murphy continues to wage a campaign for his budget proposals that were not included in the 2020 financial plan approved by lawmakers last week.

On Tuesday, Murphy visited HomeFront’s Family Campus, which provides 38 families at a time with temporary housing and access to child care, job training and other services, to renew his call for a fee on opioid manufacturers – the latest affliction HomeFront often has to help its homeless clients overcome.

Murphy wants to levy $21.5 million in new taxes and fees on pharmaceutical companies that make or distribute opioids, to offset the $100 million the budget plans to spend on state efforts to deal with the overdose epidemic that often begins with the use of the legally prescribed painkillers.

“I don’t think that asking companies with billions of dollars in collective profits to split a modest 20 percent share of our overall spend is at all out of line for all the pain the opioid epidemic has caused,” Murphy said.

The $100 million repeats the allocation in the current budget and wasn’t altered by the Legislature as it modified the spending plan.

“If we are to be able to maintain this investment long-term, we will need the sustainable and fair revenues from asking these companies to be part of the solution,” Murphy said.

“Yet the Legislature’s budget gives them a pass. It asks, in fact, from them nothing,” he said. “The Legislature has protected the opioid industry’s interests and profits and put the entire $100 million of our entire opioid program squarely on the shoulders of New Jersey taxpayers.”

Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, R-Union, said Murphy’s demand for an opioid tax is “immoral, irresponsible and ineffective.”

“There is no connection between increasing the price of legal opioids, which are used for legitimate pain patients, and decreasing the opioid crisis,” she said. “There is nothing fair about a tax that will be passed down to patients who need this medicine. We shouldn’t be taxing a legal medication with false promises.”

Murphy said his proposal was designed to be different from a tax ruled unconstitutional in New York for violating the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause. He said his administration is “confident that it won’t” be passed along to consumers.

Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal said the $21.5 million revenue estimate is “extremely conservative” and that its impact on patients would be lessened by a reduction in the use of opioids.

“If you’re reducing the number of people dependent on opioids prescriptions, for their pain or for a different reason, then you’re number one subjecting that risk to less people. And number two, you’re reducing demand. So we hope those two things will not allow for that cost to be borne by too many patients,” he said.

“The concurrent thing that we’re doing is reducing demand for opioids by working with hospitals and other providers to reduce the need for opioids. And part of that is the regime we have for medical marijuana,” Elnahal said.

“In addition to medical marijuana, we are using money from the governor’s opioid initiative to decrease prescribing where appropriate,” said Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson, citing a hospital emergency room program and outreach and education efforts through community organizations. “So we are across the board looking at ways to reduce that demand.”

Murphy’s proposal hasn’t been introduced in the Legislature, but Elnahal said it would help in three significant ways.

“First, it increases transparency around which companies are manufacturing and distributing. At present, we don’t actually know which companies are doing so and how much they manufacture and distribute because they do so for a wide variety of drug types,” Elnahal said.

“Number two, it allows the Health Department to impose fee increases on all manufacturers and distributors of drugs on a sliding scale, with the highest fee increases imposed on those companies that manufacture large volumes of opioids. And by the way, these fees have not increased since 1983. It’s currently just $200 to $500 a year, depending on the size of the operation,” he said.

“And the third thing it does is it increases penalties on those companies that are not compliant and assesses uniquely high penalties on opioid manufacturers and wholesalers who are not compliant.”


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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