EVERY now and then, state governments get a chance to do the right thing -- and sometimes they actually do it.
In the state of Missouri, though, a crisis has been brewing for a number of years in the form of an opioid epidemic, and every time the General Assembly has had a chance to tackle the issue and take action to protect residents of the Show-Me State, it has failed.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reports there were 908 heroin and opioid deaths in the state in 2016, meaning that one in every 66 deaths in 2016 was caused by opioid or heroin overdose. That's about 900 percent more than in 2001. Overdose deaths from nonheroin opioids have climbed more than 500 percent over that time.
So what has the General Assembly done? In essence, nothing.
Missouri remains the only state that does not have a prescription drug monitoring program, but efforts by lawmakers like Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, to establish one have been interrupted by lawmakers who wrongly believe that such a program would violate Missourians' privacy rights.
Her plan would establish a statewide database that physicians could use to see what opioids and benzodiazipines have been prescribed to patients.
Rehder, whose daughter has struggled with addiction and now is three years sober, is quick to point out that the only people who would have access to the database -- health care providers -- are those who already have access to patient records, allowing them an opportunity to treat and possibly prevent addiction on the front end.
And while Gov. Eric Greitens last year established a program by executive order to track where prescriptions of opioids are filled, it does nothing to put into physicians' hands a tool that would allow them more complete information to write better prescriptions.
Thankfully, Rehder and a number of other Missourians are doing what the General Assembly lacked the will to do. They have started a grassroots initiative, getting counties throughout the state to sign on to the monitoring effort being operated by St. Louis County. So far, about half the counties in the state, representing about 80 percent of the state's population, have joined. Progress has stalled, though, since a group called United for Missouri filed suit in St. Charles County to block the program.
None of the counties in The Herald-Whig's Northeast Missouri coverage area is part of the program, but it's time they were. Reach out to your county commissioners and demand action. Ask your doctors to do the same. Tell your state lawmakers the time for doing nothing is over. Don't let inaction allow addiction to continue to fester in our hometowns.
Kudos to Rehder for her fight to help prevent other parents from experiencing the loss that she has. Shame on the lawmakers who have not joined her battle. May voters remember those lawmakers' lack of effort when it's time to head to the polls.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the condition of Rehder's daughter.