The Missouri legislative session kicks off next week in predictable fashion, with pomp and plenty of speeches outlining good intentions.
After that, all bets are off as lawmakers navigate the tall weeds of passing legislation. As past years demonstrated, even a sizable Republican majority is no guarantee that much gets accomplished.
But hope springs eternal, even in the dark days of winter. Lawmakers could make a bold statement with quick action on a bill sponsored by a rookie senator from Northwest Missouri.
Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, a Republican representing Buchanan and Platte counties, filed legislation to establish a prescription drug monitoring program for the entire state. Senate Bill 155, called the Narcotics Control Act, would require to Department of Health and Senior Services to maintain a program to monitor the prescribing and dispensing of all Schedule II, III and IV controlled substances.
That would cover opioids like morphine, oxycodone and Vicodin.
Missouri lags behind other states in monitoring prescription drugs to combat opioid abuse. While much blame is assigned to outgoing state Sen. Rob Schaaf, who opposed a drug database for years, Luetkemeyer and other lawmakers shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of confidence just because of new faces in the state capital.
Skepticism about government collection of private data is not limited to any one elected official. Opioids prove an especially difficult issue to police, because the drugs — unlike meth or cocaine — can be used for a legitimate health purpose. Consider that the active ingredient in Vicodin is now the most prescribed drug in America.
However, the scale of opioid abuse shows that it’s time to act. U.S. government data shows 72,000 overdose deaths in 2017, with prescription and illicit opoids fueling that trend. In Buchanan County, state health officials recorded 30 opioid-related deaths from 2013 to 2017.
These are your neighbors who die, or wind up in prison, because of addiction that might have started with legitimate pain relief. Intervention through drug monitoring doesn’t solve the problem, but it does limit the tragedy — and the cost of incarceration.
We would even suggest that Luetkemeyer’s bill doesn’t go far enough, because if would only authorizes state health officials to collect data and contact law enforcement. Other states, such as Nebraska and Michigan, are looking at giving law enforcement real-time access to existing prescription drug database information.
In Missouri, that might be like asking for steak after being served crumbs. Luetkemeyer’s bill is a good first step.