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Other states harmed by Missouri's lack of drug monitoring; pressure shifts to local governments

Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston
File photo | Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri’s failure to set up a statewide prescription drug monitoring program during the 2016 legislative session will continue to affect other states. 

Each of the eight states bordering Missouri already has a program that notifies doctors when their patients have been prescribed dangerous amounts of addictive painkillers from multiple providers. Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, says without a program of its own, Missouri is negatively affecting the efforts of others to stop drug dealers and prevent addiction.

“We’re hurting other states because of our inactions, because their constituents come over, get their pills from us, take them home and sell them,” said Rehder. 

This year, Rehder’s proposal for a prescription drug monitoring program hit several roadblocks. The first occurred when a preliminary vote showed that about 20 House Republicans had changed their vote from "yes" last year to a "no" on the legislation.

“Their side was saying 30,000 people have access to your medical records,” said Rehder. “That’s just not true. The 30,000 people they were talking about are medical professionals, physicians and pharmacists … and those people do not have access to all of your medical records [under HIPPA laws].” 

House leadership tabled the proposal in mid-February. Rehder says she spent the extra time educating her colleagues about the successes of drug monitoring programs in other states.

“Our Medicaid system has a [prescription monitoring program]," Rehder said in an interview earlier this year. “It has never been breached. The breaches you find are associated with credit card information. People are not out there trying to find what medication the general population is on.”

Her bill was passed out of the House in early March by a 87-66 vote. It then sat in Senate committees for two months before being taken up on the Senate floor on the last day of the 2016 legislative session.

That’s where it met Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. The long-time opponent of a prescription drug monitoring program cites patient privacy concerns. 

 “We want every citizen in this state to give up a little bit of their liberty, and put [their] sensitive information on this database so we can use that sensitive information to prevent someone else for breaking the law,” Schaaf said during his brief filibuster of the bill.

During his filibuster, Schaaf said he would allow a floor vote on the proposal if Rehder and Senate co-sponsor Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, added a referendum clause. Rehder indicated that they agreed to do this behind-the-scenes, but Schaaf refused to compromise on the language that would go on the ballot. 

With just a few hours left in the final day of session, Senate leadership did not reintroduce the proposal to lawmakers.  

Rehder says she plans to try again next year, but doesn’t expect such a proposal to pass unless Senate leadership “cuts off” any filibuster attempts by Schaaf.

Meanwhile, Rehder is encouraging more cities and counties to follow the lead of St. Louis and St. Louis County. Each is starting a drug monitoring program of its own.

“St. Louis County has made some bold moves in saying, ‘Since the state legislature is not going to do anything about this, we’re no longer going to allow our citizens to be at risk,’” said Rehder.

Mallory Daily is an intern at the State Capitol Bureau for St. Louis Public Radio. Follow on Twitter: @malreports