Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor: Prescription drug overdose

Friday, October 25, 2013

Dear Editor,

After reading an article in The Kansas City Star on Oct. 8, 2013, written by Alan Bavley, I wanted to just take a moment and address an issue that in the last several years has become very concerning to me. As the coroner of Saline County, it is my duty to determine the manner and cause of death for those not under the care of a physician, or die from unknown causes. In the last few years, I have witnessed a dramatic increase in one particular cause of death: prescription drug overdose. Oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine, oxycontin, Percocet, just to name a few, are on the list.

The state of Missouri is the ONLY state in the United States of America that does not have a tracking system for the prescription of controlled substances. After speaking with some local law enforcement officials, I found out that people now travel to Missouri to get prescriptions for painkillers, go from doctor to doctor while here, then transport them back to their home state to sell illegally. They aren't able to obtain them where they're from because of the tracking systems in place in their state, so they come to the only state in the Union that they can get away with this: Missouri.

Prescription painkillers have been the cause of death for many of my cases as coroner in Saline County. Often times, while investigating these deaths, I'm overwhelmed at the amount of pain medication individuals possess, and legally. As people get addicted to these medications, they seek out new doctors for "new" illnesses, and get the prescription they desire and no one is the wiser. Some may use the excess prescriptions to sell to others, but many use them for themselves, and end up dying from an overdose of prescription narcotics.

In some of the latest data examined, deaths from prescription drug overdoses has risen well over 200 percent since 1999 in Missouri. That's an alarming figure. If that figure wasn't alarming enough, think about this: in the state of Missouri, more people die from overdosing on narcotic painkillers than those who die in traffic crashes. In Saline County, I can attest to the fact that more people die from prescription drug overdoses than those who die in traffic crashes. We have 372 miles of roadway in this county, including a major interstate, and deaths from prescription drug overdoses are greater than the number killed in traffic crashes.

When legislation was introduced in the Missouri legislature about creating a tracking database, there was concern over giving a state database an individual's medical information, because of "privacy" issues, and it failed to go anywhere. I'm going to be very blunt -- I'm really tired of hearing all kinds of excuses about "privacy" when we live in a day and age where many people put their every move on some kind of social media feed. And, for those who don't, and follow the law, there should be no concern over allowing your health care provider to log in a system that you were prescribed a narcotic pain medication. Not only does it keep people from obtaining the drugs for illegal purposes, it would assist in protecting innocent people who truly may not realize they are taking an excess of pain medication. From things I have read and from things that have been discussed in our coroner's association, I know there is much support from law enforcement, doctors and pharmacists to create a data base that will help prevent the illegal usage of these drugs.

I realize it will not "cure" the epidemic we have, but I can assure you that as other states began implementing systems to track these narcotics, they saw dramatic decreases in the number of deaths related to prescription pain medication. It's time for Missouri to make a change for the better. If we want to curb some of the travel to our great state, for the sole purpose of getting pain medication to go back and destroy someone's life with, we must do something, and fast. This is an epidemic that is growing at an alarming rate.

I would like to challenge each person out there -- call our legislators and tell them that it's time Missouri joins the rest of America and get a tracking system in place to help control some of this mess. Innocent people are dying because of the lack of regulation in this state in regard to prescription pain medication.


-- Willie Harlow, Saline County Coroner