Gov. Eric Greitens is taking a circuitous route to helping Missourians trapped by the scourge of opioid addiction.
On Monday, Greitens issued an executive order creating a statewide prescription drug monitoring program. The move will end Missouri’s embarrassing status as the only state without such a program to combat prescription drug abuse. To his credit, Greitens has been on the right side of this issue.
But the order’s details — or lack thereof — are cause for concern.
The executive order appears to focus more on the doctors who knowingly over-prescribe highly addictive medications than the people who are struggling with addiction. That’s not how model prescription drug monitoring programs function.
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The governor’s office instructed the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to set up a database using information that is “de-identified,” a term for scrubbing individuals’ personal health information. Greitens’ directive is aimed at pill mills, places that are churning out prescriptions “at dangerous and unlawful levels.”
Certainly, doctor’s offices that over-prescribe ought to be held accountable. But it’s also crucial for doctors and pharmacists to have access to enough information to know if a patient has been “doctor shopping,” seeking prescriptions and having them refilled at troubling rates. Missouri has been labeled a problem state for the practice, partly because of the lack of a statewide monitoring program.
When doctors are alerted via a database, they can guide patients to treatment. Greitens’ plan falls short on that front.
Whether the governor can unilaterally create a prescription drug monitoring program remains an open question as well because the legislature would need to appropriate funds for implementation.
Greitens also failed to seek input from the Missouri State Medical Association and many lawmakers before acting alone, bypassing conversations that could have helped shape a more effective approach. Legislators struggled all session to strike a compromise on this issue. The governor was largely absent from those conversations.
Now, he’s suddenly engaged. Greitens has scheduled multiple public appearances this week to discuss the opioid crisis. Friday, he’ll be in Kansas City to highlight drug courts.
The governor is striking the right chord in one important way. He likened opioid addiction to a modern plague capable of killing “the young, the old, the healthy, the sick, the virtuous and the sinful.” Greitens understands that drug addiction is a medical issue, not a personal or moral failing.
Missourians suffering from it need a strong drug monitoring program. Their governor should work with lawmakers to accomplish that goal.