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Some Missouri Counties To Get Federal Support To Monitor Prescription Drugs

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, speaks during a visit to NCADA's offices in St. Louis County. He leads a government task force to curb opioid abuse.

St. Louis County could receive federal funds to establish a regional prescription drug monitoring database, under a new law passed by Congress that President Barack Obama has said he will sign.

The measure allows for local governments, not just states, to apply for federal grants to set up a database to alert physicians when a patient may be receiving too many opioid prescriptions. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said she submitted the language in a motion because Missouri is the only state in the country without a statewide system.

“This is, I will confess, an amendment that is just for Missouri. And it’s not something I’m proud of, but frankly I had no other choice because the Missouri legislature has failed to act,” McCaskill said.

McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, was joined by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, who is the leader of a government task force to curb opioid abuse. Both spoke about the need to address addiction as a public health issue before a roundtable discussion at the offices for the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse in Olivette. For Vilsack, the abuse of prescription drugs is personal; his adoptive mother battled an addiction for years.

“When I was a kid, I judged my mom. I thought she could decide tomorrow to stop doing what she was doing. I had no idea it was a disease. I do now,” Vilsack said. “As long as I live, I will regret not being able to say that to her.”

Vilsack is widely considered to be on the short list of vice-presidential picks for presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Earlier this year, the St. Louis County Council voted to fund its own database, and is allowing other cities and counties to “buy-in” to the program and participate (The cost is based on the number of pharmacies in an area). Though no other state is in the same situation, local officials expressed confidence that a regional system will work.

“Secretary, we have 49 examples. That was the only benefit of being last,” said Dr. Faisal Khan, director of public health for St. Louis County.

The county is reviewing bids to select a vendor, and expects to have the database up and running by the end of the year.  Early estimates put the cost of the county’s program at $100,000. The City of St. Louis has already passed legislation and will be the first to join, and St. Charles and Jefferson Counties have also expressed interest — though St. Louis County will take an administrative role to coordinate the system.

A few hours later, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, visited St. Louis University’s School of Medicine for an afternoon press conference to discuss opioid use. He expressed support for the motion.

“I try not to give a lot of advice to people in Jefferson City, and what Senator McCaskill and I did in the [Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act] was allow counties and consortiums of counties to go together and try to provide an alternative if the state continues to decide not to have a state register,” Blunt said.

Elizabeth Schlemmer contributed reporting.