To help fight a nationwide epidemic in the abuse of addictive painkillers, Jackson County on Monday took the first step toward setting up a computerized system to monitor the sale of certain prescription drugs.
The county Legislature unanimously approved the ordinance authorizing its prescription drug monitoring plan but set no date for when it will be up and running. The program is estimated to cost $150,000 or less and would use software now being used by some of the 49 states with statewide monitoring programs.
Missouri is the only state without one.
Under the Jackson County plan first proposed this past summer, pharmacists would have seven days to provide information on each purchase of schedule II, III and IV controlled substances, or face up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail on each violation.
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Those drugs range from highly addictive painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine to less harmful drugs like diazepam, more commonly know by the brand name Valium.
Doctors could then use the data to determine whether patients were getting multiple prescription to feed a drug habit. The data also would allow authorities to determine whether some doctors were too liberal in writing prescriptions for certain kinds of drugs.
It would apply countywide with the exceptions of Kansas City and Independence, which have their own public health departments. However, both communities are expected to join in, said Legislature Chairwoman Crystal Williams.
“They cause people to die,” Williams said of the drugs the program is aimed at controlling.
At a hearing before the vote Monday afternoon, the county’s chief medical examiner, Diane Peterson, said prescription drug abuse is a contributing factor in 13 percent of the non-natural deaths in Jackson County each year.
That’s equal to deaths from traffic accidents and 3 percentage points below homicides.
Legislator Dan Tarwater said he was eager to get the plan approved for personal reasons. His brother Brian abused painkillers for 13 years before getting sober in the final months of his life.
He died last month of natural causes, according to his obituary, but Tarwater said drug abuse compromised his health.
“Brian did not die of a heart attack,” he said. “Brian died because of the abuse of his body due to opioids.”
St. Louis and St. Louis County also have their own drug monitoring plans. Repeated efforts to establish a statewide registry in Missouri have failed to pass the General Assembly for more than a decade. Critics, led by Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph, a doctor, cite privacy concerns as one reason for their opposition.
The Jackson County plan has broad support, however, from health care providers, witnesses at the hearing said. No one spoke against it.
The Kansas City Health Department estimates that 26,000 Jackson County residents are addicted to controlled substances. Although research shows that monitoring programs are successful in helping only 5 percent of people break free of their addictions, the department’s Sarah Martin-Anderson said programs like the one the county approved are a godsend.