Letter to the Editor

It's time to take legislative action against addiction

Friday, February 10, 2017

Dear Editor,

People are often surprised when I tell them that I've been investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. My story is not one you'd expect to hear from a pastor at First Baptist Church and the chairman of the Nevada Regional Medical Center's Board of Directors.

I started my career as a pharmacist in 1984. After several years on the job, I began abusing alcohol and stealing pills from my pharmacy to ease the pain of my hangovers. I started with just one pill, but my addiction grew to the point where I was taking a large number of pills every day at the height of my addiction. I'm lucky I never overdosed. This lasted for roughly seven years. I finally entered treatment in 2001, after my employer discovered I'd been stealing pills and reported me to the DEA because of the volume of pills that I'd stolen.

After going through treatment and moving forward on the path of recovery, my pharmacy license was reinstated in 2010. It really struck me how many more opioids are prescribed now than when I'd last practiced. I wasn't surprised to learn that doctors write enough opioid prescriptions for every adult in the country to have a bottle in their medicine cabinet. It's no wonder that the over-prescription of opioids like OxyContin or sedatives like Xanax has led to increasing addiction and overdose rates. There are too many pills in our communities and it's past time for our lawmakers to do something about it.

A proven method for reducing addiction is by utilizing a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a database that keeps a record of prescriptions doctors write for addictive medications. They help doctors spot signs of addiction and save hundreds of lives every year. But not in Missouri. That's because Missouri is the only state in the country that doesn't have a PDMP. Why not? Because a small number of state senators are blocking us from creating one. A majority of the legislature wants a bill that would do that -- but these few vocal opponents have blocked it from coming up for a vote.

Many turn to disproven arguments to justify their position. One is that the database would lead to the government making medical decisions. Make no mistake -- this is not true. A PDMP is a tool that helps doctors make the best decision for each of their patients. By no means does the database tell them what to do. I think we can all agree that we want our doctors making informed decisions about ours and our loved ones' health, especially when it can mean the difference between life and death.

Another is that PDMPs violate patient privacy, and could even be hacked. Well, there is no evidence that a PDMP in the country has ever been hacked. Access to the information they contain is strictly controlled, just like any other electronic medical records. By this logic, our health care system should stop using computers altogether, and rely instead on pencil and paper. Technology has helped advance healthcare to benefit both doctors and patients, and given the database's life-saving potential, it does not make sense to prevent further progress based on this flawed argument.

I've been on my recovery journey for 15 years. I'm healthier, and I'm more involved in helping others find their path to recovery from addiction. A few years into my journey, I got involved in First Baptist Church and founded the Celebrate Recovery Group to support others in turning their lives around. I couldn't have gotten through my own struggle with addiction without the support of my loving wife and son. Now, I want to help others overcome addiction the way I have. The opioid epidemic is touching people from all walks of life in Missouri: urban, rural, rich, poor, etc. I hope that Senator Emery and his colleagues feel the same way and finally take steps to address the opioid epidemic in Missouri by voting to approve Senate Bill 314. Please reach out to the Senator and his colleagues if you agree with me and would like to see them take action to save lives.

Steve Russ