BURRILLVILLE, R.I. (WPRI) — Kris Corleone runs a support group on social media for people who live with chronic pain.
“I get requests for new members every week,” Corleone told WPRI 12 as she scrolled through the online page.
Corleone was diagnosed fibromyalgia in 2003 and rheumatoid arthritis a few years later. She relies on a cocktail of prescriptions, including oxycodone, to manage the pain.
She fears prices for her painkillers will go up because of a provision added to the 2019-20 state budget that would require opioid manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers to pay registration fees on the drugs.
“It’s very hard for someone that’s in chronic pain to not know what’s going to happen next, not to know if you’re going to be able to afford those medications,” Corleone said.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello argued last week that the plan, which is called the Opioid Stewardship Act, will help tackle the ongoing opioid epidemic by creating a fund of about $5 million each year. The fund would be housed in the R.I. Department of Health.
Mattiello told reporters it is still unclear how the money will be used. “There are no dedicated programs,” he said. “We will appropriate each year as the needs of our state are determined.”
Patricia Weltin is an advocate for pain patients and runs Beyond the Diagnosis, an organization that uses art to bring awareness to rare diseases. She is also concerned about the cost of the opioid fees being passed on to consumers.
“It created an unintended crisis in the pain community,” Weltin said. “They’re already vulnerable. They’re already underserved, and what this is doing is creating a crisis within this community.”
Legislators say they’re sensitive to those concerns and have included exemptions for hospice care, anesthesia, epidurals, and medications that treat addictions.
Mattiello, D-Cranston, said the new opioid tax was put into the budget at the request of Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, D-North Providence.
Ruggerio spokesperson Greg Pare said the $5 million assessment could be disbursed between as many as 400 licensees. A company’s fee would be based on its market share from opioid sales in Rhode Island.
“If the company passes these costs on to end consumers, it will do so to maintain outsized profit margins — not because their capability of profiting from opioid sales in Rhode Island is in serious jeopardy,” Pare said in an email.
Manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers would be required to make their first payments into the Opioid Stewardship Fund on Jan. 1. Annual reports on how the funding is used would be required.