MISSOURI remains the only state in the country without a prescription drug monitoring program, although that could change now that the state's Senate has approved a bill creating a database to track when prescriptions for controlled substances are written and filled.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph, a physician who has been a fierce critic of a monitoring program. He led an eight-hour filibuster in 2012 to kill a measure that would have established a program aimed at preventing people from going to multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions for opioid drugs and painkillers.
However, while Schaaf's bill would create a system that would warn doctors or pharmacists of signs of potential abuse, it wouldn't allow them to see more specific records without typing in the last four digits of a patient's Social Security number.
In addition, while pain management specialists would be required to submit records of prescriptions to the database, other prescribers would not. It also sets a 180-day limit for keeping prescription information.
Meanwhile, an alternative bill making its way through the Missouri House would create a system to track and store prescription information without the encryption protections and the time limit, restrictions Schaaf argues are necessary to address privacy issues.
Clearly, legislators should reconcile those bills to create the most comprehensive database possible because prescription drug monitoring programs have proved to be effective in other states.
For example, Florida reported a 51 percent drop in doctor-shopping and a 25 percent drop in oxycodone deaths after implementing its program.
Doctor-shopping fell 36 percent when Tennessee began requiring doctors to use the monitoring program.
Most important, statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paint a sobering picture of what it calls the nation's opioid overdose epidemic.
Opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, killed more than 33,000 Americans in 2015 -- or more than 90 a day, the most ever.
The CDC said nearly half of those deaths involved prescription medication.
According to the CDC, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled since 1999, and more than half a million people died from overdoses between 2000 to 2015.
Statistics also show that substance abuse drives up crime rates.
Moreover, a recent report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, citing statistics from the Missouri Hospital Association, revealed that Missouri has seen a 538 percent increase in the number of babies born addicted to heroin and opioids in the last decade.
It's unquestionably long past time to give doctors and pharmacists in Missouri the tools necessary to effectively combat this deadly pattern of drug abuse and begin to save lives.