The Missouri House passed legislation Thursday that could allow the government to track everyone's prescription drug purchases through an electronic database - a move embraced in most other states as a public safety tool but considered an infringement on individual liberties by some.
The legislation would direct the state health department to develop a means of monitoring prescription medications, but it would require the funding to come exclusively through grants or private donations.
Supporters say the database could prevent cases of doctor shopping and drug abuse and, ultimately, thwart fatal drug overdoses. They point to instances in which people are getting prescriptions from multiple doctors to feed addictions or sell the drugs on the black market.
"It's important for a physician to know if a patient comes in whether that person has sought out controlled substances from eight or 10 other doctors, or had prescriptions filled at eight or 10 different pharmacies," said House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perrvyille, who is an optometrist. "I think it could save lives."
House members passed the legislation 143-6 Thursday, sending it to the Senate. But a similar bill ran into a threatened filibuster earlier this week in the Senate and was set aside without a vote. The leading opponent is state Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, a family practice physician who describes the proposed database as "a terrible infringement upon liberty."
"You want to have Big Brother have a big gigantic database of every citizen's controlled substances in the land," Schaaf told sponsoring Sen. Kevin Engler during a Senate floor debate. "I don't want my controlled substances put on a database."
Missouri and New Hampshire are the only states without laws authorizing prescription databases, although some states with such laws have not yet carried them out. Forty states have active prescription drug monitoring programs, according to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.
A prescription drug monitoring bill passed the Missouri Senate in 2008 but never the cleared the House, where Schaaf was then a member. The 2008 legislation would have been contingent upon funding from the Legislature.
This year's version sidesteps the thorny issue of finding funding for the database in a tight state budget by relying on outside sources of money.
Many other states have received federal grants to set up their prescription monitoring programs, and some have received funding offers from the pharmaceutical industry, said Sherry Green, CEO of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.
Under the Missouri legislation, pharmacies would submit to the state database the name, address and birthday of the person prescribed the drug, as well as the identity of the person picking it up, if that differs. Information about the type and quantity of the prescribed drug also would be entered into the database, along with the source of payment.
The database would be a closed record under the state's Sunshine Law, but the department could provide the information from it to law enforcement officers, doctors and pharmacists, and state boards that oversee medical professionals.
Engler, R-Farmington, said about 2,300 people died from pharmaceutical abuse in Missouri over a four-year period. He said many doctors don't currently have the ability to know if a patient is lying about having received a similar prescription from another physician.
"The lack of this bill is killing people," Engler said. "This is an epidemic."