JEFFERSON CITY — Kathi Arbini struggled to hold back tears as she testified in a Wednesday Senate hearing about the death of her son, who overdosed in 2009.
Arbini said doctors prescribed him Xanax, but he later began using heroin. After his death, she found multiple prescriptions from different doctors in his truck, indicating that he had been doctor-shopping, or moving from doctor to doctor to refill prescriptions.
“After he had passed, we got the bill that he was at the urgent care center complaining, helping a cousin move, that he had back pain. So no matter where he went, he knew what to say, and eventually it killed him because he didn’t feel that he fit in, he didn’t feel welcome, didn’t like himself. And this is how he coped with it.”
Prescription drug monitoring programs, or PDMPs, are commonly used to track opioid prescriptions, and every state has one — every state except one. While Missouri does have a monitoring program used in St. Louis and other areas, including Columbia, it does not have a program that encompasses the entire state .
That would change if Senate Bill 155, which would create a system for tracking prescriptions or dispensations of certain controlled substances statewide, becomes law.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, said in a hearing Wednesday that prescription drug monitoring cannot prevent all opioid-related deaths but it is worth pursuing.
“PDMP will not save all lives, but it will save lives,” he said.
Many supporters testified during Wednesday’s hearing, citing the dangers of unsupervised opioid dissemination. Some spoke about the addictive nature of narcotics and the pattern of moving from prescription drugs to illegal drugs.
Howard Jarvis, a physician with CoxHealth, said that addictions to other drugs can begin with prescriptions.
“The fact is, there are not very many people who start using narcotics by injecting themselves with heroin or injecting themselves with fentanyl,” Jarvis said. “Very few people jump from not abusing drugs to using IV drugs. Where do they start? They start with prescription pills.”
Having a way to check on prescriptions, Jarvis said, could help solve the problem.
James Marshall testified about having lost a son to drugs. He is now a substance abuse educator, and he says that it is “too darned easy to get these pills.”
Those opposed to the bill cited the need for opioids to be readily available for those in serious pain and concerns about the database creating a possibility of a breach of privacy.
John Lilly, a family physician in Springfield, referenced a chart he had brought, saying, “There is no correlation whatsoever between the number of deaths and the number of opioid prescriptions written.”
Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, said, “I know people on both sides of this issue, and I always fall on the side of personal information should be kept personal, and I really have not seen very many things dictated by the government that really solve a societal issue. It may have affected it a little bit one way or the other, but the solution really lies with the person.”
Lilly said that only 11 states tell people that their information will be going into a database, which tracks their prescriptions. He said he believes that the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program would be unconstitutional because it violates the privacy of those tracked in the database.
Similar bills have passed in the Missouri House in recent years but have been bogged down by the Senate over privacy concerns and other issues, according to previous Missourian reporting. This year’s bill requires that individuals’ information be kept confidential and deleted every three years.
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.