JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — In a scathing critique Tuesday, Chris Koster called on state lawmakers to “go beyond cheap words” and finally implement a prescription drug monitoring program in Missouri to help put an end to the opioid epidemic that killed more than 1,000 people in the state last year.
Koster, the state’s attorney general and a Democratic candidate for governor, posted a message on his Facebook page Tuesday entitled “Obstruction in Jefferson City is Costing Lives.”
Koster reiterated the fact that all other 49 states in the country have implemented prescription drug monitoring programs that collect, monitor and analyze electronically transmitted prescribing and dispensing data submitted by pharmacies and dispensing practitioners.
The program typically allows doctors and pharmacists to see patient prescription history to cut back on so-called doctor shopping by those visiting several doctors to get similar prescriptions for opioid-based painkillers.
“But in Missouri, like so many of the issues facing our state, politicians are engaging in obstruction rather than finding real solutions to protect Missouri families,” Koster wrote. “Forty-nine states have implemented drug monitoring programs — sadly, Missouri is the only state not using this tool to fight the epidemic.”
Despite having the support of law enforcement, community advocates, pharmacists and doctors, and leaders in both parties, the legislature has been unable to broker a compromise, Koster said. Mick Covington, the executive director of the Missouri Sheriffs Association confirmed his organization does support implementing a prescription drug-monitoring program in Missouri.
Opioid overdoses have nearly quadrupled nationally since 2000, Koster said, and of the 28,000 lives claimed annually, more than 1,000 lived in Missouri. Over the last decade, emergency room visits for Missouri opioid overdoses more than doubled. The state also saw a 4 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths from 2013 to 2014.
“It’s time for politicians in Jefferson City to go beyond cheap words, and to finally put an end to the obstruction allowing the opioid epidemic to ravage our state unchecked,” Koster said.
Some lawmakers have been trying to do just that, such as Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, who sponsored the Narcotics Control Act in the Missouri House for the past two sessions and supported similar measures the previous two sessions before that.
“This is an epidemic,” Rehder said. “This is a health risk. You can’t tie a price tag to it. It’s saving lives.”
The program, which Rehder vows to introduce again next session, has been largely stymied by one lawmaker, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, the chief opponent of the program. Schaaf, a family physician, argues that allowing the government to keep prescription records violates personal privacy.
Still, he said Tuesday, for the past five years he has encouraged his fellow lawmakers to put the matter to a vote of the people, an idea that has been consistently shot down.
“I think that’s because they know most people don’t want it,” Schaaf said. “This is a database on which every citizens medical data would go on and would be accessible to thousands of people with a user name and a password. People don’t know what this is.”
Schaaf said he has also suggested a compromise proposal that would track prescriptions through the state Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, but would not be made available to doctors and pharmacists. Instead, the bureau would alert authorities to suspicious cases.
But Rehder said concerns raised about privacy are a red herring. She notes that the first state implemented a prescription drug monitoring program in 1939 and every other state has come on board, but that not one has backed out because of privacy concerns.
Rehder said Senate leadership needs to just let Schaaf follow through with his promise to filibuster.
“When he drops, count the votes,” Rehder said. “It’s absurd to allow an obstructionist, one person, to not allow the constituents of Missouri to speak. This program would save lives and it’s just ridiculous that it’s being held up like this.”