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St. Louis County to begin testing database to prevent opioid abuse

A capsule of pills.
FDA | file photo

After years of opposition in the Missouri legislature to a statewide program to monitor prescription drugs, St. Louis County is preparing to test its own.

By using a new database, pharmacists in the county will help flag consumers who may be “doctor shopping” for highly addictive opioid-based painkillers. Missouri is the only state in the country without such a system.

Its goal is to take away one of the easiest pathways to opioid addiction, while giving doctors and pharmacists a way to be more vigilant, said Dr. Faisal Khan, St. Louis County's health director.

“If they’re seeing clients that may have an addiction related or dependence related issue, they can intervene earlier and link those people out with counseling and testing and treatment,” Khan said.

There were 93 opioid-related deaths in St. Louis County last year, Khan said. Most were heroin overdoses, but public health officials say many people start with prescription pills.

St. Charles County and the city of St. Louis will participate in the system. Other counties, including Jackson County, are preparing to do so.

“We get at least two or three phone calls every week,” Khan said. “People wanting to know what the design of the program is, what the nuts and bolts are, how quickly they can come on board.”

After putting out a request for proposals, St. Louis County selected the software company Appriss, based in Louisville, Ky., to design the system. According to Khan, it has a built-in “entry/exit” strategy to fold the program into a statewide database, if the state legislature passes a law to develop the program.

The cost to St. Louis County will be $78,000 a year for three years. Other Missouri jurisdictions can subscribe to the system at a rate based on the number of pharmacies and physicians in their area. According to Khan, the annual price would range from $41,000 for the city of St. Louis to $54 for smaller, rural jurisdictions.

St. Louis County’s database is slated to go live on April 1 of this year. Anti-addiction advocacy groups have applauded the effort.

“Missouri has become America’s pharmacy. People get prescriptions from doctors out of state, and then are able to go to multiple pharmacies in Missouri and fill those prescriptions, and then go around and sell them on the street,” said Brandon Costerison, a spokesperson for the St. Louis chapter of NCADA, an anti-addition organization.

“What we’re looking at is a minuscule cost for saving lives," Costerison said. "Think about how much one overdose in an emergency room costs a hospital.” 

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB

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