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Prescription drug monitoring program is finally near for Missouri

Missouri is one step closer to shedding its designation as the only state in the country without a prescription drug monitoring program after a bill to establish one was passed out of the Senate Tuesday.

Senate Bill 63, sponsored by Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, cleared what has historically been a stumbling block for the legislation by a vote of 20 to 12 Tuesday. It now heads to the House, where unlike the Senate it has historically found success.

For nearly a decade, Missouri has been the only state without a prescription drug monitoring program, more commonly known as PDMP, which would allow physicians and pharmacists to track prescriptions.

Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston

The bill would establish a “Joint Oversight Task Force for Prescription Drug Monitoring,” which would be made up of licensed healthcare professionals, like physicians and pharmacists, who would oversee the creation of a centralized database. The bill is based on the compromise lawmakers reached on last year’s legislation, Rehder said.

Supporters argue it’s necessary to monitor patients’ history and help providers intervene to stop opioid abuse. And for Rehder, the issue is personal, as her own family has struggled with opiod addiction.

“This would simply move our patchwork program to a statewide program with legislative oversight,” Rehder said Tuesday.

Republican Sens. Mike Moon of Ash Grove and Rick Brattin of Harrisonville both reiterated their concerns with the legislation Tuesday and were among the 12 Republican senators who voted against the bill. 

Eleven Republicans joined nine Democratic senators in passing the legislation.

Brattin said that the 49 states that had already implemented a statewide PDMP program were test cases for whether such a system works effectively.

“Forty-nine have failed. Forty-nine still continue to fail. And we still continue to see an epidemic of these sorts of overdoses, the movement to fentanyl,” Brattin said. “It has not cured or even helped move the ball forward. It just moves people to transition to a different form of drug to overdose from.”

In the past, even with the support of Gov. Mike Parson, himself a Republican, opponents have managed to block the legislation. It appeared to be on the brink of passage last year but was shot down after some Democrats, who have traditionally supported the program, joined Republican lawmakers in opposition.

Amid the roughly six-and-a-half hours of debate on the bill last week, familiar concerns resurfaced.

Moon questioned the security of third-party vendors overseeing data entered into the system, and the effectiveness of the current local PDMP program in St. Louis County.

“We may not have a lot of control over foreign entities and what they do with it,” Moon said. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

St. Louis County’s program is housed by a third-party vendor and covers a little over 80 percent of the Missouri population, Rehder said. It would be phased out after the statewide program is implemented. Rehder stressed that any vendor contracted by the state would have to meet the bill’s qualifications.

Under the bill, data would be purged on a rolling basis and could only be kept for three years — a provision the current St. Louis county program does not have, she said.

What’s more, provisions also stipulate information in the database cannot be used by law enforcement to prevent an individual from owning a firearm, or as probable cause to obtain a search warrant or arrest. If a person knowingly discloses patient information in violation of the bill, they could be guilty of a class E felony.

An amendment offered by Moon attempted to strike any PDMP program from operating in the state altogether.

“It’s no longer a question if we’re going to have a PDMP,” Rehder said. “We have a PDMP. It’s which one do you want.”

The bill now heads to the House with time running out on the 2021 legislative session. Only six weeks remain before the Legislature adjourns for the year.

This story by Tessa Weinerg is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.

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