Missouri senator tries to block prescription database

Thursday, May 3, 2012 | 6:23 p.m. CDT; updated 7:05 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 3, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri senator who is a family physician vowed Thursday to try to block legislation authorizing a government database to track drug prescriptions unless it is put to a statewide vote.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, asserted that the prescription database — which already is authorized in 48 states — amounts to an infringement on individual liberties for which he is willing "to stand here as long as my legs hold up" on the Senate floor to prevent the measure from coming to a vote in the chamber. The only way he would relent, Schaaf said, is if the measure is put to a referendum later this year.

The House already has passed a bill directing the Missouri health department to set up a database of prescriptions, financed with grants or donations. The database is intended to stop "doctor shopping," in which people get prescriptions from multiple physicians to feed their addictions or sell the medicines on the black market.

Missouri and New Hampshire are the only states without laws authorizing prescription databases, though 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.

Under the Missouri legislation, pharmacies would submit to the state database the identities of the doctor prescribing the medicine and the patient receiving it, as well as the drug's quantity, the date and other details. Information in the database could be provided to doctors and pharmacists, state regulators and law officers under subpoena.

Schaaf argued that the database could be hacked or leaked, revealing potentially embarrassing information about the medications people take.

"This bill causes every citizen to be forced against their will to give up their privacy — their personal information about the controlled substances they are prescribed by their doctor," said Schaaf, whose effort was being aided by several colleagues.

As he embarked on his filibuster, Schaaf turned to state Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, for help in talking about the bill. Lager obliged for a while but asked Schaaf how the prescription database infringed on liberties any more than a proposal that would allow police to pull over motorists for not wearing seat belts. Schaaf, a supporter of stricter seat belt laws, responded that people injured because they fail to wear seat belts infringe on others' liberties. Sometimes, their medical bills are covered by the government's Medicaid health care program for the poor.

Schaaf appeared to dispute the notion that people who abuse prescription drugs similarly infringe on others' freedoms.

"If they overdose and kill themselves, it just removes them from the gene pool," Schaaf said.

Sen. Kevin Engler, who is sponsoring the legislation, offered a compromise Thursday that would limit the categories of drugs covered by the database, track only those prescriptions paid for with cash — as opposed to private insurance or the state Medicaid program — and retain the information for no more than 180 days. Engler said he also was willing to increase penalties for violating patients' privacy rights.

But Schaaf said he would relent only if the legislation was referred to the statewide ballot, something that Engler said was unnecessary and had not been done in any other state that approved a prescription database.

"It's been proven in every other state to lower the amount of illegally gotten, legal prescription drugs," said Engler, R-Farmington. "It has lowered this doctor shopping all over the country."

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