Fighting Addiction: Prescription Drug Monitoring

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri lawmakers are working in the current session make the state the last to adopt a prescription drug monitoring program.

In the 49 states that have them, doctors and pharmacists are able to see if someone is trying to doctor shop for narcotics.

“I grew up on welfare, and kind of on the wrong side of the tracks of what people would think,” said state Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston.

When Rehder was growing up in the bootheel, she was surrounded by drug users and dealers.

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Without a positive example to follow in her teenage years, life got tough.

“So at 15 I was a high school dropout, pregnant, married, looking at going down the same path of poverty that had gone through my family.” Rehder said.

Rehder said her faith and a fear of the drug use she saw in her youth motivated her to get a GED and raise her family in the front pew of church.

As hard as she tried to keep her kids from going down the same path as her relatives, one of her daughters tried an opiate for the first time at age 17.

“She cut her thumb at work and went to the emergency room and got it stitched up and got a script of loracets,” Rehder said.

Rehder said her now 30-year old daughter has fought for more than a decade to get clean.

Rehder has custody of her grandson, who was born with opiates in his system.

“My daughter fell down that same path,” Rehder said. “It has nothing to do with your social status, nothing to do with your economic background. It has everything to do with what lies in your DNA.”

Rehder has been trying for several years to pass a bill to create a prescription drug monitoring program in Missouri.

“If it would have been detected early on and from the physicians that she was getting them from and the people that she was buying them from, it would have been less pills available, perhaps she wouldn’t have gotten addicted,” Rehder said.

Monitoring programs allow medical professionals to enter prescriptions for controlled substances into a database, and that database is programmed to throw up red flags when something doesn’t seem right. 

“The physician and pharmacist has an opportunity to see if maybe they’ve [the patient] got duplicate drugs, over-medicated, and try to get some assistance to the person before it bubbles into a more significant problem,” said Ron Fitzwater, CEO of the Missouri Pharmacy Association.

Fitzwater said a monitoring program has the overwhelming support of most folks in the medical community. 

The main opposition in Jefferson City to this program comes from Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, a physician by trade.

KOLR10 News contacted Shaff’s office multiple times and visited with his staff in his office to ask for an interview and the senator was not made available.

In past debates on the Senate floor, Schaaf has raised concerns about patient privacy.

“The argument is hollow that this thing has not been vetted,” Fitzwater said. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at other states and set up a system that will work for Missouri. This data is in the healthcare system.”

“We can’t pick and choose when we’re going to ring the freedom bell,” Rehder said. “These programs have been in place and there hasn’t been an outcry of privacy issues across the country.

Rehder said a monitoring program would not end prescription drug abuse, but it could have saved at least one of her relatives before it was too late.

“You have over 6,000 children taken out of substance abuse homes last year,” Rehder said. “Think of if we were treating this differently, if we were treating it on the front end and treating this as an addiction, what our prisons would look like, what our families would look like, what our social services would look like.”

Rehder’s bill to create a prescription drug monitoring program has passed the Missouri House and a Senate committee.

It needs to pass the full Senate, but it could be stalled there once again if Schaaf decides to lead a filibuster.

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