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State-run opioid monitoring program ready to launch in Missouri

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Opioid crisis

Synthetic opioids like illicit fentanyl contribute to 77% of overdose deaths while prescription opioids only contribute to 23%.

JEFFERSON CITY — After years of Republican resistance, Missouri is set to finally launch a statewide prescription drug monitoring program.

According to a contract inked earlier this month, the state will pay a medical technology company $1.4 million to operate the program, which is designed to curb opioid addiction.

Kentucky-based Bamboo Health, which was already overseeing a county-level program operated by St. Louis County, won the contract, which was put out for bids last year following legislative approval of the plan.

“Bamboo Health will seamlessly transition the St. Louis County … system to the Missouri statewide system without the need for a complicated data migration project,” Bamboo said in a statement to Gov. Mike Parson’s administration.

The program is supposed to curtail so-called “doctor-shopping” in order to obtain multiple prescriptions for painkillers.

Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, championed the measure for a decade in response to her own family members who have struggled with opioid addiction, which continues to plague the state.

The concept, however, was largely blocked by former Sen. Rob Schaaf, a Republican from northwest Missouri who expressed ongoing concerns about patient privacy when companies collect medical information.

When efforts to establish Missouri’s statewide monitoring program stalled, St. Louis County established one in 2017 that 75 local jurisdictions agreed to participate in, covering 85% of the state.

Health officials said opioid prescriptions decreased dramatically once the county established the monitoring program. In 2016, Missouri averaged 80.4 opioid prescriptions per 100 people; in 2019, it was down to 58.3 prescriptions, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yet, the overall drug overdose death rate in Missouri has steadily increased since 2016.

The City of St. Louis Medical Examiner’s office confirmed nearly 900 accidental fatal overdoses over a two-year period between 2020 and 2022.

St. Louis County has recorded about 700 overdose deaths during the same period.

Missouri had an average annual rank of 16th among states from 2010 through 2019, as the country descended into an opioid epidemic, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of CDC data compiled by Kaiser Family Foundation.

Gov. Mike Parson signed the law into effect in June 2021.

Under the plan, pharmacists who dispense controlled substances will be required to enter prescriptions into the database, which would then be made accessible to doctors.

In making its bid offer to the state, Bamboo officials said a similar program in Louisiana has seen a massive increase in usage since the company took over.

In 2019, for example, it recorded 800,000 searches by doctors. In January 2022, that number increased to more than 2.7 million searches.

In Kansas, where the program has operated for about seven years, opioid prescriptions decreased 21% from 2018 to 2022. Rates of prescriptions from multiple doctors decreased by 86% from 10.9 per 100,000 in 2018 to 1.5 per 100,000 in 2022.

Missouri will receive $25.3 million dollars in federal grants to fight the opioid epidemic. The funds will go to the Missouri Department of Mental Health and is part of a $1.5 billion effort announced by the White House.

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