In a rare move, Missouri’s U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill has inserted herself into state politics over prescription drug monitoring legislation.
The Senator has released several statements over the past several weeks urging lawmaker’s to pass a measure sponsored by Representative Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, to establish an electronic database that collects information on controlled substance prescriptions.
Missouri is the only state without such a program. The database is meant to give doctors and pharmacists a way to identify drug traffickers, and especially opioid abusers.
Rehder points to statistics that say 6,000 children were removed from substance abuse homes in Missouri last year, and that emergency room visits for opioids by Missouri Medicaid patients increased more than 400 percent last year.
McCaskill wrote a letter to Governor Greitens in support of Rehder’s request for a special session after lawmakers failed to pass her bill in the final days of the legislative session.
Once Greitens called for lawmakers to work overtime, but not on the drug monitoring measure, she released a statement calling his announcement “deeply discouraging” while urging him to reconsider.
The state House and Senate couldn’t reach agreement on the measure after the upper chamber added language to limit its scope. The Senate passed a version amended by Republican Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph, which would purge the database of individual information after 180 days and only allow doctors to participate in the program.
McCaskill thinks the changes rob the measure of its usefulness. “You might as well put up a sign ‘We are doing a prescription drug monitoring program, but’s worthless’” said McCaskill. “That doesn’t appear to me to be a good idea.”
The Democratic U.S. Senator says prescription drug monitoring is an issue that brings her and GOP member Rehder together. “We’re not of the same party and we disagree on many things, but she’s really trying to save lives” said McCaskill.
Rehder’s measure received some resistance from her own party before passing by a 102-54 margin out of the House. One critic was State Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, a former St. Charles County undercover detective.
“We are addressing a problem with the wrong answer” said Hill. “The problem is the drug dealers, and they are physicians. It never helps to go after the user.”
Opponents of prescription drug monitoring say there is no proof the practice stops illegal prescriptions. In 2014, Missouri recorded 125 deaths from opioid drug abuse, ranking the state 32nd.
Schaaf, who has single handedly blocked the legislation in previous years, claims the program is an infringement on privacy rights. He also disapproves of it because the data can be breached.
The Associated Press reported that in 2009, Virginia’s database was breached, almost 8 million records were deleted and the homepage was replaced with a ransom note for $10 million.
Prescription drug monitoring enjoys widespread support among the medical, law enforcement, and business communities.
The Missouri Hospital Association, Missouri Nurses Association, Missouri Pharmacy Association, the Missouri Grocers Association, Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Missouri Police Chiefs Association and the Missouri State Troopers Association were among those who testified this year for the Rehder bill.
During a phone conference with reporters Thursday, McCaskil continued to press Governor Greitens to help Rehder with her legislation.
“The governor ought to call a special session. He ought to help her get this across the finish line. I know there’s a lot of members of the Missouri legislature that don’t want Missouri to be the only state in the union that has a welcome mat out for people who want to deal in the black market of heroin and opioids.”
McCaskill tweeted support for Rehder Thursday, “She deserves it. Party shouldn’t matter. She’s working hard to save lives”.