About four months after Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens signed an executive order to establish a prescription drug monitoring program, the program remains on hold and the opioid crisis it’s intended to stem shows no signs of abating.
Missouri’s status as the only state without a database to track prescription drugs was cited several times by law enforcement and health officials who gathered in Kansas City Regional Police Academy Thursday for an opioid summit.
The event drew a crowd of about 400 and featured Jackson County Executive Frank White, a representative of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, and speakers from local addiction treatment groups.
After the summit, Randall Williams, the director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said his agency is ready to use the database as soon as the Missouri Office of Administration finalizes the contract with the company that’s supplying the data.
“We do the execution, we’re just waiting to hear from them,” Williams said.
Williams said the contract was still in the procurement process and he referred further questions to the Office of Administration.
“Although the process for a PDMP (prescription drug monitoring program) contract is moving forward, we don’t talk about the details during ongoing contractual discussions,” Office of Administration spokeswoman Ryan Burns said.
“I can tell you that we are working closely with the House budget chair and others to ensure this important initiative is set up for long-term success.”
Missouri is the only state without a prescription drug monitoring program, and Greitens signed an order to establish one after the legislature again adjourned this year without putting one in place.
Greitens’ order was criticized because, unlike in other states, the database it established would have only been available to state officials, not to doctors and pharmacists. And the company tapped for a contract to establish the database, St. Louis pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts, had donated $10,000 to Greitens’ inauguration.
But at the opioid summit Michael Petersen, a former St. Louis physician who is now working for Accenture on an opioid analytics program, said that once the database is up and running, it should provide valuable information about where the state’s opioids are coming from.
“I worked in this state, the only state that didn’t have a PDMP,” Petersen said. “And that’s huge, because you do want to have some understanding of the data and understanding of who’s prescribing what.”
But Petersen warned that drug monitoring programs are not a silver bullet for stopping opioid abuse. Kentucky has had one for 15 years, he said, and the drug crisis there has only gotten worse.
Thursday’s event was part of a series of summits across the state organized by Williams’ agency to try and connect local, state and federal resources to restrict opioid abuse.
DEA Special Agent Douglas Dorley said the opioid problem is growing in Kansas and Missouri, and his agency is trying to keep tabs on a flood of both illegal heroin and legal prescription medications that aren’t written for legitimate medical purposes.
“We have to look at it from all angles,” Dorley said. “If we have doctors, if we have health care facilities that are actually contributing to the problems, that’s bad news.”
Dorley said opioid addicts know which doctors and emergency rooms are loose with narcotics and that some will travel from Kansas to Missouri to get prescriptions because they know Missouri doesn’t track them.
Dorley said that once addicted, pill seekers often turn to the streets for their opium fix because illegal heroin is much cheaper.
“So these pills these doctors are prescribing and people are getting are actually making heroin junkies, or addicts,” Dorley said. “We’re forcing them to that dirty drug.”