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Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri Legislature Sends Opioid Monitoring Program To Governor

holly rehder 2021
Tim Bommel
/
St. Louis Public Radio
State Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, shown in 2017 when she was a member of the House, has been one of the key supporters of a prescription drug monitoring program.

Missouri is set to shed its distinction as the only state without a statewide program to track opioid prescriptions.

The state House voted 91-64 Tuesday to adopt a prescription drug monitoring program. By January 2024, all health care providers who are legally able to prescribe opioids such as oxycodone will have to enter that information into a database in real time. The intent is to keep people with substance use disorder from going to multiple providers.

The Senate already approved the program, and Gov. Mike Parson is expected to sign it into law.

State Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, has worked on the issue since she was first elected to the House in 2012. While the Senate has almost always been the sticking point, Rehder said she did not believe that her election to the upper chamber played a part in getting the measure to the governor’s desk this year.

“It’s the fact that you have the medical professionals dealing with this every day and wanting this tool,” she said. “It’s the fact that you have so many of our counties already in this program, and it’s the fact that everyone knows someone struggling.”

That includes Rehder herself. She told St. Louis Public Radio’s Politically Speaking in 2017 that her daughter had battled an addiction to drugs for years and that her cousin died of a drug overdose. Her stepfather, she added, sold drugs.

“Since I was raised in it, I’m a little bit more of a mouthpiece to be able to explain, ‘Look, this is what it truly looks like,’” she said on the podcast.

But opponents of the PDMP say it will force those with an addiction to opioids to turn to illegal drugs like heroin.

“I have empathy for families that have lost loved ones, I really do,” said Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, a former narcotics detective. “It’s easy for them to say it started with pills. But they always die on heroin or fentanyl. That is not addressed in the bill.”

Hill said he will introduce legislation next year to undo a statewide PDMP. He called it government overreach but said he could support a private program that could not be accessed by government officials.

Liz Chirarello, a sociology professor at St. Louis University, said PDMPs don’t stop overdoses. They are simply policing software, she said on Twitter.

“It is also surprising that the same legislators who voted to expand the PDMP refused to fund Medicaid which would have done far more to help people with substance use disorders and pain than the PDMP will,” she said.

Eighty-five percent of the state already belongs to a prescription drug monitoring program operated by St. Louis County. Once the statewide program is fully implemented, the county’s program will end.

Police bill stalls

An overhaul of law enforcement policy is hung up in a Missouri General Assembly conference committee over a provision boosting penalties for lying to legislative committees. It’s a stalemate that puts in jeopardy arguably the most sweeping bill addressing police practices since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

Sens. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, and Brian Williams, D-University City, have been working on legislation for months that bars police officers from using chokeholds, as well as from having sex with detainees. It also would create a use of force database and seeks to better track officers with problematic backgrounds who hop from department to department.

But during a Tuesday conference committee, lawmakers were at odds over another provision that would create a series of penalties for either lying to or obstructing testimony before legislative committees. That measure is a priority for House Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold.

Williams said that proposal is a nonstarter for members of the conference committee.

“Right now, the majority of the committee and the body feel like it would give an unprecedented amount of power to the Senate president and the House speaker,” Williams said. “And we just don’t believe that it’s setting good precedent.”

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, who is on the conference committee, said that if the provision remains in the bill, it could put the entire legislative proposal in jeopardy of being vetoed. Parson confirmed that during a press conference Tuesday.

“I spent 22 years in law enforcement protecting due process for the citizens of this state,” Parson said. “If that bill is attached to anything, it will be vetoed immediately. I’ve said that, and I’ll make it perfectly clear today. That is a total power grab overreach of government, and the last thing we need is to be doing that.”

But several House members of the conference committee said they wouldn’t support moving forward with the legislation without the General Assembly perjury language. The conference committee adjourned on Tuesday without taking a vote on the legislation.

“And at this point until we begin those negotiations, I’m not sure that this committee on the House side is prepared to move forward,” said Rep. David Evans, R-West Plains.

Williams, who has been working on the legislation for months with police and civil liberties groups, said he hopes there’s a way out of the disagreement before session ends at 6 p.m. Friday.

“I think we have an opportunity to pass a very strong bipartisan, comprehensive criminal justice reform bill,” Williams said. “And it would be unfortunate if we let one issue derail that.”

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