Health Care

New Missouri law meant to stop opioid prescription fraud. But there’s a big exception

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included incorrect information about electronic prescribing legislation in Kansas. It has been corrected.

Missourians who need prescriptions for opioids and other controlled substances will soon need to have them sent electronically from their doctor to their pharmacy.

The new law is designed to stop people from stealing prescription pads from doctors and hospitals and using them to forge orders for opioids and other potentially addictive drugs.

But the law includes an exception for patients who specifically request a paper prescription.

The law, signed by Gov. Mike Parson last week, was the product of a compromise between drug stores, which originally asked for it to apply to all prescriptions, and doctors, who said they wanted to preserve patients’ freedom.

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which has pushed electronic prescribing nationwide, praised the final product, calling it “vital for helping to address the opioid-abuse epidemic by reducing fraud and abuse.”

“This is a significant milestone,” said Steven C. Anderson, the group’s president. “Missouri is now the 25th state to enact an NACDS-backed e-prescribing requirement that will help to prevent opioid abuse.”

The requirement goes into effect Jan. 1.

Kansas also passed its own version of the electronic prescribing mandate this year. It applies only to opioids and only to medical professionals who issue 50 or more opioid prescriptions per year. But it does not allow patients to opt out.

The Missouri bill only passed after significant changes.

It originally applied to all prescriptions but was whittled down to just those for controlled substances. Exceptions were also made for doctors’ offices that don’t have the required technology and for prescriptions that will be filled in other states.

Then there’s the exception for when patients specifically request paper prescriptions, which the Missouri State Medical Association successfully sought to protect as a right that patients have elsewhere in state law.

Barbara Curtis of Warrensburg said she was glad lawmakers added that provision, because while taking care of her late mother she learned that she could save a lot of money by shopping prescriptions around.

After her husband’s recent eye surgery, she said, the doctor asked her where she wanted the prescriptions sent electronically and was surprised when she instead requested to have them on paper.

“I took those three prescriptions in written form to each of those pharmacies and said, ‘I want a bid. How much is it going to cost?’” Curtis said.

She ended up filling them at three pharmacies to get the best prices.

Henrio Thelemaque, the director of government affairs for the Missouri Pharmacy Association, said the group was pleased to come to an agreement on the bill that preserved that right while still creating more security for controlled substances.

He said that patients also benefit from electronic prescribing because it eliminates the possibility of misplaced prescriptions.

“It’s kind of trying to protect that patient,” Thelemaque said, “so we all have better lines of communication and fewer hindrances throughout that process.”

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Kansas City Star health reporter Andy Marso was part of a Pulitzer Prize-finalist team at The Star and previously won state and regional awards at the Topeka Capital-Journal and Kansas Health Institute News Service. He has written two books, including one about his near-fatal bout with meningitis.