Opioid crisis required action | Editorials

The opioid abuse crisis did not strike overnight. It wasn’t like a tornado, where one minute things are calm and the next you’re running to the basement.

Opioid abuse came more like a thief in the night, sneaking up on us one pill at a time. The next thing you knew, few corners of the state were spared from its impact.

In 2019, Missouri reported 1,094 opioid overdose deaths, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Emergency rooms in Missouri treated more than 4,000 patients for nonfatal opioid overdoses in 2018.

It’s true that some states rank higher with opioid deaths. At times, the distinction between prescription opioids and heroin can get muddled. But there’s no doubt that the human toll is profound, that abuse of prescription opioids can lead directly to death or to even more dangerous drugs and that things can be done to minimize its impact.

Some of those things, like providing treatment or access to anti-overdose medication, have been recognized for years. Another weapon, a prescription drug monitoring database, was a tougher sell in Missouri.

Just like an online sales tax, Missouri remained a holdout long after most other states jumped on the bandwagon. Both measures passed in this year’s General Assembly and head to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk.

The online sales tax got more attention because it’s viewed by some as an issue of fairness and government resources. PDMP wasn’t as prominent, but the measure’s passage late in the session should be viewed as a public policy victory, and not just because all those ER visits are costly. Eventually, statistics will tell whether this database, designed to prevent pill shopping and the abuse of painkillers, makes a difference.

The real impact of families that don’t have to endure a loved one’s downward spiral or death is harder to track. Maybe there’s something to be said for not being the first to jump on board. Perhaps some of the common-sense protections in this bill, like a prohibition against prosecutors, law enforcement or professional licensing agencies accessing the database, would have been less likely.

Some still object on privacy grounds but ask yourself how much personal information is already handed over, willingly, to Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos. At some point, the cost of inaction outweighed those concerns.

“Our rural communities have been overrun by opioid drugs,” the Missouri Farm Bureau said in a statement after PDMP legislation passed. “To protect our citizens from this scourge, we must implement new tools for medical professionals.”

This action on PDMP was long overdue.

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