After lawmakers fail to pass drug monitoring bill, Missouri remains in a class by itself

Associated Press file photo

Sometimes it seems that there are only two issues in Missouri — how to make guns even easier to get and how to make abortions even harder. Somehow, creative lawmakers manage to find a way to transform any other concern into a handy carrying case for one or the other.

Take the opioid crisis. Can you guess which of the only two real worries in the Missouri multiverse governs the legislature’s response to one of the state’s leading public health issues? If you guessed guns — another major threat to public health — you know your state.

Missouri leads the rest of the Midwest in the rate of opioids prescribed. No wonder, when every other state in the country has a statewide prescription drug monitoring program that allows doctors and pharmacists to identify and interrupt doctor-shopping and prescription drug abuse. Monitoring can also prevent fatal overdoses from mixing medications that should never be taken at the same time.

Missouri still does not have such a system, principally because conservative lawmakers here fear that a government database could also be used to keep someone tagged with a possible addiction from buying a gun.

Monroe County Commissioner Ron Staggs, who has frequently testified against drug monitoring, insists that Missourians without access to prescription pain pills would resort to heroin or other black-market options and become even more likely to overdose. That is not what’s happened elsewhere, though.

And here’s his gun argument, which often remains hidden under the shade of the whole “privacy” umbrella: “If your name is on the database because you take these prescription medications, due to recent changes in the law, the FBI can use the PDMP database for background checks when you attempt to purchase a gun. One of these drugs may be for an injury and could exclude you from the ability to purchase a firearm and/or possibly cause the legal confiscation of your firearms.”

Or, it could minimize the deadly combination of addiction and firearms.

Privacy concerns aren’t an invention. Virginia’s monitoring system was hacked a decade ago. But compared to the risk of overdose, it seems more like an excuse.

Prescription records are already kept by Walmart, Walgreens, Medicaid, St. Louis County and 72 other Missouri jurisdictions, including Kansas City and St. Joseph. Under the bill the House approved, law enforcement officials would have to get a warrant to access any information from the database, and data would be purged every three years.

Gov. Mike Parson rightly called a statewide system “long overdue,” and other Republicans agree.

“My concern with privacy is greatly outweighed by the ability to save a life,” GOP state Rep. David Wood said early in the session.

But the half-dozen Senate Republicans who make up the Conservative Caucus continue to block it. “Why as law-abiding citizens,” asked state Sen. Denny Hoskins, “do they want their names on some database that tells what prescription drugs they’ve been prescribed?”

Because as those who’ve lost loved ones to addiction know all too well, “law-abiding citizens” get addicted to prescription drugs, too.

“Our job is to protect the freedoms of liberties,” state Rep. Jered Taylor said in opposition during the House debate. Those freedoms that involve access to guns, anyway.