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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Proposed Opioid Drug Tax Would Fund Treatment Courts

Rep. Zach Brown, D-Bozeman.
Montana Legislature

HELENA — According to a study from the state health and human services department, more than 700 Montanans have died from an opioid overdose since 2000.

“And the number one recommendation from that study was that we need to invest in treatment courts,” said Rep. Zach Brown, D-Bozeman.

Brown is sponsoring House Bill 654 on behalf of the Montana Department of Justice and the Attorney General’s office. The bill would put a 10 percent tax on the initial sale of opioids, a tax that’s paid by the seller, to fund Montana drug treatment courts.

State Attorney General Tim Fox has said addressing what he calls the “opioid epidemic” and substance abuse in Montana as one of his top priorities. HB 654 is a part of Fox’s Aid Montana Initiative, which was started in 2017 to address and treat substance abuse across the state.

Drug treatment courts use judicial oversight to help high-risk, highly addicted people get addiction treatment through frequent drug testing and different incentives.

Brown said there are approximately 30 courts in the state and that each court can usually only help rehabilitate about 30 people.

“Drug treatment courts represent a really meaningful, functional, successful and inspiring part of our criminal justice system,” Brown said. “And they’re currently really underutilized, in my opinion.”

Jon Bennion with the Montana DOJ supported the bill during a hearing in the House Taxation Committee Wednesday. He said using a drug treatment court is generally a better alternative to incarceration.

“We have an alternative that is not only more effective in reducing recidivism, but also cheaper,” Bennion said.

Leah Lindahl with the Healthcare Distribution Alliance opposed the bill during its public hearing. She said drug wholesalers would transfer costs onto consumers if there was a new tax.

“And with states across the nation, including Montana, already grappling with issues surrounding the affordability of medication, implementing legislation to develop a new tax on pharmaceutical products will further exacerbate these issues,” she said.

The committee did not take any immediate action on the bill.

Tim Pierce is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Greater Montana Foundation and the Montana Newspaper Association.

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