Missouri Advances Prescription Drug Monitoring Bill Amid Spying Concerns

By John Celock

The Republican-controlled Missouri House of Representatives advanced legislation Thursday to create the nation’s last state-based prescription drug monitoring program.

Proponents stressed the bill was needed to stop drug users from using prescriptions at multiple pharmacies in order to obtain pills for their addiction or to sell. Opponents argued that the program was a domestic spying program that could allow the state and federal governments to monitor the prescriptions of state residents. Missouri is currently the only state in the country not to have a monitoring program in place, a fact stressed by supporters.

Rep. Kevin Engler (R-Farmington), the bill’s sponsor, told his colleagues that the program has worked in other states and would save lives in Missouri. He said that smaller programs that have been adopted by pharmacy chains have had benefits in stopping residents from obtaining the same prescription multiple times. He stressed that steps would be taken to protect consumer data but noted that the program is one to save lives.

“We cannot be afraid of losing our data in exchange for losing our lives and having people sell drugs on the street,” Engler said in the debate.

Rep. Keith Frederick (R-Rolla) argued that the bill would become a domestic spying program. He said that he could see “government bureaucrats” monitoring prescription drug usage on a regular basis. He noted that he could see the prescription database could be compared to a gun ownership database in order to determine which drug owners were taking certain prescriptions in order to seize guns.

Frederick on several occasions said that he was not engaging in “conspiracy theory” talk. He said that with the revelations of programs used by the National Security Agency, there is proof of domestic spying by the government. He said he can support the program but only if the government was not allowed to access the data.

“If we want this information we should have in the hands of our medical providers and not in the hands of a state database that is open to hacking and abuse,” Frederick said.

The Missouri Prescription Drug Monitoring NOW Coalition stresses that the program is a lifesaving one. Missouri came close to adopting a program in 2012 but a bipartisan bill did not pass in the closing days of that session. New Hampshire was the last state to establish such a program last year.

During Thursday’s state House debate, supporters noted that right now Missouri has no control from a resident taking the same prescription to multiple pharmacies or to prevent residents from “doctor shopping” to obtain prescriptions. The coalition explained on their website the benefits a monitoring program can have.

“A PDMP is a tool that also can be used to intervene in the early stages of prescription drug abuse, as well as to assist prescribers in preventing prescription drug abuse and enable prescribers of pain medications to know if they are treating someone who has been ‘doctor shopping’ by going from doctor to doctor for multiple prescriptions or gain access to these drugs for resale,” the coalition wrote.

The bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration.

Frederick told his colleagues that they needed to put liberty first instead of feeling good about potentially saving lives.

“If you want to feel good buy a puppy, if you want to protect liberty vote no,” he said.