FILE - fentanyl

This photo provided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Phoenix Division shows some of the 30,000 fentanyl pills the agency seized in one of its bigger busts, in Tempe, Ariz., in August 2017. 

(The Center Square) – New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy did not make a lot of noise about a proposed $15 million fee on opioid manufacturers included in his revised budget proposal.

The governor first touted the tax in 2019, saying the tax would make drug companies accountable for the opioid epidemic.

New Jersey is one of several states proposing a tax on opioids, which have been blamed for a surge of overdoses in recent years.

But some say the tax is unfair to patients who need the drugs for legitimate pain needs, especially those who are suffering from late-stage cancers. And by punishing the manufacturers, you are punishing those patients, said Assemblywoman Nancy Muñoz, R-Morris/Somerset/Union.

“We know that 76 percent of those who become addicted are because they took someone else’s medication,” Muñoz said in an interview with The Center Square. “The medical community, which includes all prescribers – doctors, advanced nurse practitioners, dentists, chiropractors – have developed systems where they’re much better at making sure that they don’t overprescribe.”

The New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program, launched in 2012, includes a database of controlled substance prescriptions made by out-of-state pharmacists and outpatient health care providers. The database is designed to spot consumers who are addicted to opioids and “doctor shop” for multiple prescriptions.

Fentanyl, which has become the centerpiece of the opioid epidemic according to industry groups opposing the tax, also has legitimate purposes and is critical in the fight against COVID-19.

“Many patients battling the virus were placed on ventilators for an extended period of time,” the New Jersey Pharmacists Association, the Garden State Pharmacy Owners, the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, the Homecare and Hospice Association of New Jersey, the New Jersey Council of Chain Drug Stores and the New Jersey Business & Industry Association wrote in a joint letter to Murphy in July. “Unfortunately, because of the pain associated with inserting a tube down a patient’s airway to his or her lung is met with extreme pain, and medical professions cannot do it without pain killers and muscle relaxers, like fentanyl.

"In most parts of the country, demand for fentanyl doubled, but in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan region, demand was up more than 500 percent,” they added

The effects of the proposed tax would extend from the health care industry and to businesses, according to Christina Renna, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey.

“Now, as businesses begin to open their doors and try to recover from the financial and health-related strain of COVID-19, our government must implement policies that help employers, not hurt them,” Renna said in a statement. “A tax on opioid manufacturers and distributors will only lead to higher healthcare costs for the state’s businesses, health professionals, and patients.”

State lawmakers will begin hearings on the budget Sept. 9 and the fee will likely be scrutinized again. Republican Sen. Bob Singer called the tax “nuts.”

“Is the governor seriously suggesting we should make health care more expensive during a global pandemic?” Singer said in a statement. “We don’t make any aspect of health care more affordable for patients by taxing it.”