More Data in the Trusty Hands of Government-Prescription Drugs

Posted: February 12, 2014 in Healthcare/Obamacare, Legislative Issues, Privacy Rights
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Prescription Drug Data Base Gets First Round Approval

JEFFERSON CITY   •   A database could help physicians avoid writing prescriptions for people who may be selling those potentially addictive drugs under a bill approved by the Missouri House.

But senators involved in the issue said there’s little chance of such a measure moving forward.

The bill creates an electronic system to monitor who is being prescribed drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Xanax. Bill sponsor Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said keeping people from obtaining large quantities of drugs will save lives.

“People have died from getting prescriptions from people that illegally bough them,” Engler said. “We’re killing people.”

Missouri is the only state in the country without a prescription drug monitoring system in place or being implemented. Engler said Missouri was the “doctor shopping capital” of the country, since drug dealers could go from doctor to doctor and get multiples prescriptions for the same drug and then sell it.

The bill would create an electronic database managed by the Department of Health and Senior Services. Pharmacies would share information about prescriptions, the patient and the doctor who signed off on the medication.

While the information would be considered confidential, it could be released to physicians, pharmacists, and regulators or law enforcement with a court order. The creation of the database, funded solely through grants or donations, caused the most concern for some lawmakers.

Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla, previously sponsored bills to create this program. But he said he’s come to believe the risk to individual privacy is too great. The risk of a data breach is too high for too little benefit. He said overdoses from prescription drug abuse were no lower in states with these databases.

“These are not necessarily a panacea,” Frederick said. “I have real concerns about the tradeoff that we’re making.”

But Engler said saving even just one life outweighed concerns about a hypothetical hacking attempt or government overreach using the data.

Engler and other lawmakers shared personal experiences with witnessing friends and family who became addicted to prescription drugs. Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, said she’d had to face her daughter struggling with addiction and that was when she found out such a system wasn’t in place.

“I could not chase down the people who were selling it to her. It was impossible,” Rehder said. She said it wouldn’t fix every problem involving prescription drug abuse but that it could help slow illicit sales.

After another vote in the House, the measure will move to the Senate. The House passed a prescription drug monitoring measure in 2012 but the effort was blocked in a filibuster by Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

“I think that we need to see what these other states have realized,” Rehder said. “It is shameful that one senator can shut down something the whole rest of the country has realized is needed.”

Engler criticized the Senate’s failure on the legislation. “I hope that the Senate has some conscience and backbone to do this,” he said.

No legislation has been filed in the Senate yet this year.

Schaaf said he still had the same concerns about privacy and did not think such databases would be effective.

“It’s never been shown to lower the death rate,” Schaaf said. “It’s extremely sad when somebody overdoses but they are breaking the law.”

But Schaaf said he was willing to compromise. He said he proposed an idea to the past sponsor of a Prescription Drug Monitoring System bill, Sen. David Sater. Schaaf said the proposal would allow only a division of the health department to access and analyze the information.

Sater, R-Cassville, said Schaaf’s proposal wouldn’t be effective because there needed to be more access to stop those traveling across state lines. Sater said he still supported creating a way to monitor prescriptions but that last year’s scandal surrounding concealed carry permit information being sent to the federal government had made the effort much more difficult.

“There’s not enough support for the general body to pursue this,” Sater said. “(The Department of Revenue scandal) really took the wind out of the sails of prescription drug monitoring.”

Schaaf said he considers it a dead issue.

(The bill is HB 1133.)

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