The state of Missouri reported 951 opioid-related deaths in 2017, representing an increase of around 5 percent from the previous year.
The description of opioid abuse as an epidemic gets widespread agreement, with law enforcement, treatment providers and families describing a heavy toll.
At the close of the Missouri Legislature’s 2019 session, Gov. Mike Parson called the session “historic.” This description deserves more scrutiny. The governor, in December, outlined goals for the state as expanded workforce development, improved infrastructure and legislation that would make Missouri the last state to enact a prescription-drug monitoring program to combat opioid abuse.
The governor’s economic-development priorities — $50 million in tax credits for General Motors in the St. Louis area and funding to get adults degrees and workplace training — survived a late filibuster and passed in the session’s final days. Lawmakers trimmed about $50 million from Parson’s bridge infrastructure proposal and made the whole thing contingent on the federal government providing money for costly bridge replacement on Interstate 70, west of Columbia.
Lawmakers once again failed to pass prescription drug monitoring. This issue, it seems, faces more obstacles than just former state Sen. Rob Schaaf, the St. Joseph physician who led opposition during his Senate tenure.
Rep. Holly Rehder, a southeast Missouri Republican who proposed prescription drug monitoring, told the Southeast Missourian that the late emphasis on abortion restrictions might have sunk any chance for her legislation. She told the newspaper she supports the abortion bill but wishes lawmakers could have made time to address opioids.
Rehder said this in an open letter to her colleagues: “It’s safe to say this won’t be the year it finally gets done. I realize that makes some of you cheer. But for the many Missourians silently struggling with this epidemic at home tonight, they won’t be.”
Closer to home, Missouri lawmakers achieved some success, including protections for large farms against excessive local regulations, additional funding for Missouri Western State University and a land bank bill that helps St. Joseph address its problem with vacant housing. Legislation allowing local government to collect sales tax on online purchases, which would benefit cities like St. Joseph, did not pass.
The final days of this session were defined by one heated issue: abortion. Whatever your opinion, there’s no denying that the initial impact of the abortion bill will be limited because of court challenges.
On issues of more immediate impact, like infrastructure and drug monitoring, the results of this session could be described as mixed.