Health & Fitness

Jackson, St. Louis counties team up to track prescription drug abuse

Jackson and St. Louis counties are joining forces to track abuse of prescription painkillers such as oxycodone.
Jackson and St. Louis counties are joining forces to track abuse of prescription painkillers such as oxycodone.

Jackson County announced Tuesday that it will join St. Louis County in a prescription drug monitoring program as a way to fight abuse of painkillers.

Missouri is the only state in the nation without a system to track the sales of prescription drugs.

Despite repeated attempts over the past decade and wide support from health advocates, law enforcement and others, the General Assembly has been unable to pass legislation that would set up a statewide program. A small number of opponents have blocked those bills, citing privacy concerns.

Hearings on two competing proposals, Senate Bill 74 and Senate Bill 231, are set for 10 a.m. Wednesday in Jefferson City before the Senate Health and Pensions Committee.

Prescription drug monitoring programs help combat the practice of “doctor shopping.” Many drug abusers build stockpiles of opioids and other potentially harmful drugs by convincing numerous doctors to write prescriptions.

Monitoring programs give doctors access to records showing what prescriptions their patients are filling at pharmacies. That way they can cut off patients who are abusing prescriptions and help them seek treatment.

The Jackson County Legislature authorized establishment of its monitoring system late last year. Both Kansas City and Independence have said they will join in when it is set up.

St. Louis County’s system, which includes the city of St. Louis, is already up and running, making it cheaper for Jackson County to activate its own.

The Jackson County program is estimated to cost $150,000 or less. A coordinator is being hired.

Recently at the urging of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, the federal government agreed to help counties pay for monitoring programs. Previously the grants were available only to states.

Once the program has been activated this spring, 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.

Those drugs include strong painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine and weaker medications like diazepam, more commonly know by the brand name Valium.

Supporters of drug monitoring programs are once again seeking approval of a bill that would make the county programs unnecessary.

“Missouri has the votes in both the House and the Senate to pass the law, as long as a few obstructionists will choose to stand down,” according to Shatterproof, a national nonprofit group dedicated to fighting addiction to prescription drug.

Mike Hendricks: 816-234-4738, @kcmikehendricks