Is Missouri operating a new stealth prescription drug monitoring program, or has Gov. Eric Greitens simply failed to get his promised program up and running? After saying in July that the program could be operational within weeks, the state Department of Health and Senior Services and the state Office of Administration wouldn't say Tuesday whether it is.
Greitens created his own version of a statewide monitoring program to try to bring Missouri into line with the rest of the nation after state lawmakers failed to approve such a plan. Greitens called painkiller abuse a "modern plague," and launched a weeklong series of events to focus public attention on opioid abuse and drug trafficking.
His plan drew criticism for not conforming with most monitoring programs that track when doctors prescribe opioid painkillers. Greitens said his plan would target "pill mills" that pump out excessive amounts of prescription drugs such as Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet.
The plan specified that prescription and dispensation information the health department received would remain confidential, leaving Missouri as the only state without a way to track opioid abuse among the patients actually using the drugs. Two lawmakers told the Post-Dispatch's Jack Suntrup that the state has not entered into a contract to start the program, but a spokeswoman for the state's Office of Administration said the "process for a PDMP contract" is moving forward.
Without knowing whether a plan is in place, it's impossible to evaluate whether it is beneficial or the dud that critics predicted it would be.
Greitens wasn't around Tuesday to answer Suntrup's questions about the state of the program. A frequent world traveler, the governor left for Israel on Sunday. Last month he was on a trade mission to the United Kingdom and Switzerland. In September, he was in China and South Korea. Two weeks ago, he made a campaign-style appearance in Iowa.
The Hawthorn Foundation, a nonprofit that frequently funds overseas trips for Missouri governors, paid for most of the travel. The Republican Jewish Coalition paid for part of the Israel trip.
Greitens recently criticized Missouri's two U.S. senators who offended him by calling for an investigation of neglect at the St. Louis Veterans Home. His letter to them said: "A lot of us back home have been wondering what you've been up to." Back home where? China? Europe? Iowa?
While the state fails to monitor opioid abuse, a collaborative monitoring effort among 14 jurisdictions across Missouri, including St. Louis city and county, is producing results. St. Louis County released the first report Tuesday showing that over three months, doctors wrote the equivalent of more than 1.5 controlled-substance prescriptions for every person in the county.
A comprehensive statewide monitoring program would save lives in Missouri. But to focus on this problem, the governor actually needs to be here.
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