Remember when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz read the Dr. Seuss classic “Green Eggs and Ham” on the Senate floor so he could continue droning on for hours live on C-SPAN2?
Such juvenile political antics could play out in the coming weeks at the Missouri Capitol, as efforts ramp up to kill a proposal that would surely save lives from deadly prescription drug abuse.
The filibuster has become the go-to move for a small number of Missouri lawmakers who are determined to derail common-sense legislation creating a statewide prescription drug monitoring system. And they could brandish this rhetorical weapon again if a proposal aimed at preventing patients from stockpiling opioids and other potentially harmful medications continues to gain traction.
Back in 2012, an eight-hour filibuster was led by state Sen. Rob Schaaf, a Republican of St. Joseph, to deep-six a bill that would have established a much-needed prescription drug monitoring program in Missouri. At the time, only Missouri and New Hampshire were without such systems, which provide doctors and pharmacists with essential information allowing them to avoid over-prescribing painkillers and help patients who are abusing addictive medications.
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Four years later, the epidemic of prescription drug abuse has only continued to grow, taking even more lives and robbing many people of the ability to function. And now, Missouri has the unholy distinction of being the only state without such a monitoring program.
According to an Associated Press story at the time, Schaaf was quite proud of his maneuver, which allowed him to outlast most of the other senators willing to stay in the chamber while he spoke for hours on end. “I think we’ve killed it for this year,” he said then.
Schaaf added: “If they overdose and kill themselves, it just removes them from the gene pool.”
This year, such cruel bravado will meet its match.
Gov. Eric Greitens weighed in last week in a powerful way. Greitens took to Facebook for a live question-and-answer session on Wednesday. The first query he chose to address was about Missouri’s lack of a prescription drug monitoring program.
Greitens immediately acknowledged the devastating effects of Missouri’s outlier status. And he shared his own family’s experience, revealing that a relative died of a heroin overdose just last year.
Sadly, it is that human cost driving much of the growing awareness and support for the monitoring program. People are dying. And they come from every part of the state, every race and class level. Elected officials and their loves ones are not excluded.
Greitens and other political leaders who have suffered similar personal loss understand that they cannot remain silent. Greitens’ support could be essential to finally passing legislation that would give Missouri doctors and pharmacists this important tool to help people with addictions.
In his Facebook comments, Greitens noted that in 2015, Missouri “lost 1,000 mothers, fathers and kids to opioid abuse.” He pointed out what law enforcement has long asserted: that substance abuse also drives crime rates. And despite some people’s concerns about databases and privacy, the governor predicted, “We can get this done.”
Strong bipartisan support exists for passage of Senate Bill 314, which would establish this necessary monitoring program. A few long-winded opponents with a willingness to filibuster must not stop this critical measure again. The legislature has dragged its feet for long enough.
Let’s get this done, Gov. Greitens. Regrettably, we know you understand the cost of addiction.