A handful of obstinate legislators sealed Missouri’s fate as the only state in the nation without a program to help doctors identify patients abusing prescription drugs.
That’s a heck of a distinction for Missouri.
It was a shameful dereliction of duty by lawmakers in a state where more than 1,000 people died in 2015 from heroin or opiate-related causes, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The insurmountable sticking point in Jefferson City was some lawmakers’ insistence that Missouri’s prescription drug monitoring program purge data every 180 days, a poison-pill provision that would have rendered the system wholly ineffective.
Monitoring programs work when doctors can see when their patients have been prescribed highly addictive opiates. Doctors can then intervene if someone has been shopping around, finding new sources to fuel an addiction.
Relapse is common, as high as 80 percent for opiates within the first month after a person receives treatment. At least two years’ worth of prescription records are necessary to determine whether someone developed an addiction, sought treatment and then began to struggle again.
The flawed legislation backed by some senators “takes away our ability to maybe save someone from the progression of a disease that will lead to death,” said Susan Whitmore, president and CEO of First Call, a Kansas City-based addiction and recovery resource. Her view is echoed by other addiction experts.
Some legislators’ insistence on purging data had nothing to do with addiction. It was a matter of privacy and a fear of data collection. But doctors already have permission from patients to access their medical histories. Monitoring programs are a tool. They simply collect pertinent information to better inform doctors.
About 53 percent of the state is now covered by county-level drug monitoring programs, including those in Jackson and St. Louis counties. But huge swaths of Missouri are not participating, primarily in the northwest, central and southwest parts of the state.
The Missouri State Medical Association, representing 6,000 physicians, expressed dismay at the failure of the state legislature.
Rep. Holly Rehder, a Republican from Sikeston, deserves recognition, though. She shared her own family’s story of addiction and was a strong advocate for monitoring programs. Rehder led the type of honest conversation that will be necessary for Missouri to finally act responsibly to fight the scourge of opiate addiction.
Efforts must be revived next legislative session for a strong statewide program to become law. The need is too great.