JEFFERSON CITY — A new effort to make Missouri the final state to approve legislation authorizing creation of a government database to track prescription drug purchases won first-round approval Tuesday in the state House.
The database is aimed at stopping "doctor shopping" in which people get prescriptions from multiple physicians for personal use or so they can sell the medications. Opponents of establishing a database cite concerns about privacy and individual liberties.
House members endorsed the legislation by a voice vote Tuesday, and it would need a second affirmative vote before advancing to the state Senate.
Sponsoring Rep. Kevin Engler said Missouri has become the "doctor-shopping capital for the country" and that people are dying after illegally obtaining prescription drugs. He said there is a real problem and that it should trump any hypothetical fears about what could go wrong. Some lawmakers recounted examples of friends and family members who have abused prescription medications.
"This is killing people in Missouri, and we can do something to help," said Engler, R-Farmington.
Under the House legislation, pharmacies would submit information about the identity of the patient, pharmacy and prescribing doctor. The drug's quantity, the date, whether the prescription is new or for a refill and other details also would be provided. The state Department of Health and Senior Services would be responsible for establishing and maintaining the program.
Data within the database would be considered confidential but information could be provided to doctors, pharmacists, regulators and law officers who have a subpoena or a court order. Someone who wrongly discloses information could be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.
Funding the database would need to come from gifts, grants and donations.
The concept has come up previously at the state Capitol. Prescription drug monitoring legislation backed by Engler in 2012 prompted an eight-hour filibuster in the Senate and ultimately did not pass. A proposal in 2008 passed the Senate but never cleared the House.
Prescription drug monitoring programs are gathering data and allowing authorized people access to it in 48 states, according to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws. The alliance said New Hampshire is developing regulations and that Washington, D.C., has approved legislation and is awaiting review by Congress.
On Tuesday, a one-time supporter of Missouri's efforts to develop a database joined the opposition. Rep. Keith Frederick, an orthopedic surgeon and the sponsor of bills in 2011 and 2012, questioned the efficacy of a monitoring database and its potential ramifications.
Frederick, R-Rolla, said studies have indicated the number of deaths and overdoses have not really gone down in states with a database. He also worries about the security of the database and the potential for government officials to use information for other purposes.
He said he could see information about prescription drugs being relayed to law enforcement and used to question whether someone should be driving a car, or turned into a basis to prevent people from buying a gun or ammunition.
"I have real concerns about the trade-off that we're making," Frederick said.