(THIS STORY WRITTEN BY ALEX DEROSIER, Missourinet contributor)

An official from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) testifies they lack the resources to shut down “pill mills”, or clinics that prescribe drugs inappropriately or for nonmedical purposes.

Representative Kathryn Swan Photo from Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications

Dean Linneman, who oversees DHSS investigations of controlled substance distributors, testified Monday before the House Budget Committee in Jefferson City. Linneman says his division doesn’t have enough staff to go after known pill mills. He says that in 2003, the DHHS Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs had 9 investigators– one for every 2,500 prescribers of controlled substances.

“At that time if we were to receive a loss report of ten pills from a pharmacist or from a doctor’s office, we would send someone out and say let’s look at your inventory, let’s audit your books,” he said.

Major cuts in 2005 left the bureau with as few as two investigators, something Linneman said has stretched them thin. “We’ve kind of had to back that ten pill loss report down to a much higher number, the things that are more your worst case scenario, and that’s how we’ve been operating.”

Linneman said he is not aware of any other department in Missouri state government that has so few staff per person monitored.

State Rep. Kathryn Swan (R-Cape Girardeau) tells the committee it can sometimes be blatantly obvious that a clinic is abusing its ability to prescribe drugs.

“There was actually video of a man driving up in a fancy sports car,” Swan said, describing a line of customers standing outside of a small business establishment. “The individual goes in, out of the fancy red sports car, and they start filing in.”

Other telltale signs she mentions include cash-only payments, no physical examination requirements, picking-and-choosing of drugs for patients, and the presence of security guards.

Swan has introduced legislation (HB 103) to establish the Controlled Substance Abuse Prevention Fund. It would secure funding for investigations of pain management clinics suspected of being pill mills, and establish a minimum number of narcotics control investigators in the Department of Health and Senior Services.

With two investigators, Swan says there is currently only one per 15,000 registrants with the DHHS Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Her bill would establish a requirement that there be one investigator per 2,500. The bureau would need 10 more investigators to accomplish this.

To pay for this, Swan’s bill would establish a treasury fund for controlled substance abuse prevention that would be funded by Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs registration fees. More than 30,000 people are registered to provide controlled substances through the bureau, a privilege they pay a fee for. Currently, the roughly $700,000 collected annually goes to the general revenue fund.

Missouri House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) says he is interested in seeing more funding for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, but wants to find ways to do it without diverting money into a different fund.