Here is what it took for common sense about prescription drug addiction to gain traction in Jefferson City: more than five years of legislative wrangling, embarrassing national press painting Missouri as backwards and federal maneuvers allowing counties to act because state lawmakers would not.
Finally, a state senator grasps that he’s fighting a losing battle against a much-needed proposal. Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican, says he is willing to compromise. Schaaf has been a leading opponent of a monitoring system in previous legislative sessions, throwing up roadblocks to legislation while citing privacy concerns.
Monitoring programs allow doctors and pharmacists to see if a person has been going from doctor to doctor, gathering up prescriptions, possibly fueling an addiction.
An increasing number of Missouri counties and cities have moved to launch their own monitoring systems. Several new programs go online in April. But a state law is preferable.
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“I personally don’t believe that the PDMP is going to be effective,” Schaaf said. “But I would rather have one that protects our liberty rather than having a bunch of county ones that put everybody’s data out there.”
Despite his misgivings, Schaaf appears ready to forge a statewide solution.
Any compromise, though, should retain the main provisions of a bill sponsored by Rep. Holly Rehder, a Sikeston Republican. That includes allowing doctors to see in real time what a patient has been prescribed elsewhere and providing access to a system that is compatible with those used in 40 other states. Schaaf has sponsored his own drug monitoring legislation, a toothless proposal that the Missouri Medical Association called “fake.”
Schaaf, a family practice doctor, should favor giving medical professionals information that can help them flag a patient’s misuse of medications so that help can be offered. Instead, privacy has been his focus. Schaaf also contends that the vast majority of addicts do not go from doctor to doctor seeking prescriptions, but rather they buy from sellers.
Perhaps it depends on when you deem a drug user an addict. Is it when they are first prescribed an opioid and find themselves craving more, spinning lies to get prescriptions? Is it when they move to a cheaper, more accessible drug, like meth or heroin? Or is it when they turn to crime to secure drugs or cash?
At what point along this perilous path should Missouri try to help people? At the earliest possible juncture, before someone tumbles deeper into addiction.
Missouri needs a prescription drug monitoring program — urgently.