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Missouri governor calls for 'long-overdue' drug-monitoring database to curb opioid abuse

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson thinks the state is “long overdue” for a statewide prescription-monitoring database for doctors.

Parson, a Republican, said Wednesday he hopes state legislators will pass a bill legalizing such a program next year. Missouri remains the only state without such a database, which proponents say helps cut down on opioids being sold on the street.

Parson made his remarks during a St. Louis stop on a weeklong statewide tour focusing on health issues. He met with state health officials and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson to discuss Missourians’ addiction to opioids. The drugs in 2017 killed 760 people in the St. Louis region alone, and 951 in the entire state. One in every 65 deaths in Missouri that year was due to an opioid overdose, according to the the state’s health department.

“Not to be able to give these men and women behind me the opportunity to have a tool in their tool box to try to fix this problem or to fight crime” is setting back the fight against opioids, Parson said. “We know this is a serious problem, and we’ve got to give them every opportunity we can,” he said.

How drug-monitoring databases help  

Electronic prescription-drug-monitoring programs allow physicians to pull up a patients’ prescription history before dispensing the addictive painkillers. The programs aim to prevent “doctor-shopping,” in which people travel from doctor to doctor receiving prescriptions for the same problems.

The databases have gained popularity in states as more people die from opioid overdose. Health experts have said many people who abuse opioids originally became addicted after taking prescription painkillers such as OxyContin.

When prescription drugs become too expensive or harder to obtain, many people switch to illegal opioids, including heroin that contains the dangerously potent synthetic opioid fentanyl, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Mike Parson speaks to reporters on the St. Louis Public Radio Politcally Speaking podcast in this 2016 file photo.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Mike Parson speaks to reporters on the St. Louis Public Radio Politcally Speaking podcast in this 2016 file photo.

“We all know that prescriptions is where this problem started, and prescriptions is where some of this problem will end,” Krewson said.

She added the city’s fire department has been responding to seven to 10 calls a day related to opioid overdoses. On some days, there are as many as 15 calls to the fire department, Krewson said.

Regional attempts to address the problem

Frustrated with the lack of a state-wide program, St. Louis County officials in 2017 created their own drug-monitoring database, which several other municipalities have joined.

Efforts to pass a bill setting up a state system in Jefferson City have been unsuccessful in the past. Former Gov. Eric Greitens created a program through an executive order in 2017, but the program only allowed state officials to monitor clinics’ prescribing habits and didn’t allow doctors to see individual patients’ histories.

A doctor-accessible program could identify people at risk of addiction before physicians prescribe pills, advocates say.

Missouri could finally achieve such a program next year, Parson said.

“You’ve got new leadership in the house of representatives, you’ve got new leadership in the senate, you’ve got a new governor in place right now,” he said. “So, I think there’s an opportunity.”

State Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, who consistently voted against drug-monitoring programs, is retiring due to term-limit restrictions. His replacement, Republican Tony Luetkemeyer, has sponsored a bill creating a statewide database.

Parson didn’t give details on how he would prefer such a program to be operated and how it would fit in with the state’s current patchwork system.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @Petit_Smudge

Copyright 2020 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit .

Sarah Fentem reports on sickness and health as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s news team. She previously spent five years reporting for different NPR stations in Indiana, immersing herself deep, deep into an insurance policy beat from which she may never fully recover. A longitme NPR listener, she grew up hearing WQUB in Quincy, Illinois, which is now owned by STLPR. She lives in the Kingshighway Hills neighborhood, and in her spare time likes to watch old sitcoms, meticulously clean and organize her home and go on outdoor adventures with her fiancé Elliot. She has a cat, Lil Rock, and a dog, Ginger.
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