Missouri opioid tracking bill still faces roadblocks

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers could as early as Monday advance a bill that would allow doctors to track prescription drugs in an effort to combat the opioid epidemic, but there are still significant roadblocks to making Missouri the final state to adopt such a system.

All other states have adopted a prescription drug monitoring program, which is a database that provides physicians and pharmacists with a patients' prescription history so they can intervene with medical help for those who could be struggling with addiction.

At least six Republican senators in the newly formed Conservative Caucus oppose the measure, citing privacy concerns and saying they're not convinced a database would stop overdoses.

"I don't know why we have people that are so bent on not allowing this through," said Republican Rep. Holly Rehder, who for years has led the fight to enact a monitoring program.

Rehder said her bill could come up for a final vote of approval in the House Monday. After that, it would head to the state Senate, where Republican Sen. Cindy O'Laughlin said she and other members of the Conservative Caucus are prepared to stand and speak against the bill for hours.

"Everything about it is bad," O'Laughlin said.

"Morally, I'm just totally against it," she said. "There's not a lot of things that I can say I feel that way, but this is one of them."

O'Laughlin said the Conservative Caucus plans to roll out another plan that would give doctors and pharmacists the option to check existing medical records.

That bill is still in the works, but the concept appears to be substantially different from Rehder's plan, which would require doctors and pharmacists to report all potentially addictive prescriptions to a statewide database run by the health department.

It's unclear if critics' proposed solution will get support from longtime backers of a prescription drug monitoring program.

Roughly 85% of Missourians are already covered by a monitoring program run by St. Louis County and joined by numerous other counties across the state. Some supporters said they would rather keep that system in place than risk watering it down with a less stringent statewide program.

"The conversation is getting ripe for us to say, 'Let's find a better solution,'" said Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, who has previously carried bills to implement a statewide program. "But we're not going to go backwards. I'm convinced that we're not going to go backwards."

Republican Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden said Missouri's continued status as the sole holdout could help push the bill over the finish line this year. And he said even if his colleagues have privacy concerns with a government database of medical information, they should be motivated to take action as lawmakers in the face of a county government-controlled program that's effectively serving most of the state.

"There just comes a point where we're all going to have to be big boys and girls and make tough decisions," Rowden said.