- Associated Press - Thursday, February 11, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri lawmakers are considering how to combat rising levels of opiate addiction - and while some proposals have garnered widespread support, others face challenges over funding and privacy concerns.

The House voted 154-2 Thursday to allow pharmacists to sell naloxone, which temporarily counteracts the effects of opiates and is used to treat overdoses. That bill now heads to the Senate, where a similar bill has already been referred to committee.

Rep. Steve Lynch, the Waynesville Republican who sponsored the bill, said this legislation is a “huge step” toward combatting “the epidemic of heroin and prescription drug overdoses.”

Missouri had 1,067 drug overdose deaths in 2014, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control have compiled state-level data. Lynch’s office pointed out that, by comparison, the Missouri Highway Patrol counted 766 vehicle fatalities that same year.

“The good news is, we’ve got an antidote,” Lynch said of naloxone, which currently requires a prescription to purchase. “It’s effective, it’s safe to use, it won’t hurt anyone if it’s given to them by accident, it’s not addictive, not euphoric, not a controlled drug.”

He added that implementing some kind of program to monitor drug prescriptions would “no doubt” help reduce opiate addiction.

Missouri is the only state without a prescription drug monitoring program, a database intended to flag patients who are seeking similar drugs, such as painkillers, from numerous doctors or pharmacies.

Rep. Holly Rehder, a Republican from Sikeston, has proposed creating such a system. Her bill has passed two committees and was put on this week’s debate calendar. But that debate was delayed after some Republicans called it an invasion of privacy.

Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican, wrote an editorial Sunday calling the monitoring program a “dragnet” that “treads upon the privacy rights of hundreds of thousands of Missourians who have done nothing wrong.”

In an interview Thursday, Barnes said “a good number” of House Republicans share his opinion.

He pointed to a 2014 study published in the journal Injury Epidemiology, which shows prescription drug monitoring programs were associated with an 11 percent increase in drug overdose mortality between 1999 and 2008. In many states, prescription monitoring programs were initially used as a law enforcement tool, the researchers wrote, which could have forced drug users into riskier practices.

Barnes has proposed a program that would track prescriptions of people with a history of drug use, who would be allowed to contest their inclusion on the registry.

Majority Leader Rep. Mike Cierpiot said Republicans are working to smooth over differences off the House floor. He expects to eventually bring the bill up for debate.

Minority Leader Rep. Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, said he thinks there are already enough votes for the program to garner a bipartisan majority.

House Speaker Todd Richardson reiterated his support for a monitoring program Thursday, saying he still expects one to pass his chamber.

Lynch said the state should also boost funding for more treatment centers and drug courts.

Nearly all of Missouri’s judicial circuits include a drug court, which place defendants under court supervision while they undergo treatment. More than 4,100 adults participated in a drug court treatment program in 2015.

State funding for drug courts has remained relatively flat since the 2012 fiscal year, when a $1 million funding boost raised it to about $6.7 million - though the courts also collect fees from defendants. The total appropriations for the judiciary are about $208 million for the fiscal year that ends in June.

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Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed to this report.

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