Local officials on Monday expressed concerns about a prescription drug database ordered by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, though a state senator who has opposed the idea gave the plan guarded support.

One Jackson County legislator strongly suggested that the governor’s move might not be legal.

“There’s language in this that gives us pause,” said County Legislator Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City, a vocal proponent of a statewide system. She added later, “It appears illegal to me.”

Greitens on Monday ordered the Department of Health and Senior Services to track and analyze the sale of controlled substances – chiefly opioids such as oxycodone – to identify where they are being inappropriately “prescribed, dispensed or obtained.” That information would be turned over to law enforcement and professional licensing boards. “Prescription and dispensation information shall be confidential …” the executive order says.

The governor’s office said the targets here are “pills mills” and that more information on his program will be coming out this week. Greitens has a series of events on this issue across the state this week, including one Friday in Kansas City.

The issue is the number of people hooked on opioids, powerful painkillers that are also addictive. The governor’s executive order noted that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared a national opioid epidemic and said 900 people in Missouri died of opioid overdoses last year.

Users often go from doctor to doctor with complaints of severe pain to get one prescription after another. Other states have databases that allow doctors to see what other prescriptions a patient has so they can say no and refer that patient to help such as drug treatment. But the General Assembly has consistently said no to that in Missouri, citing privacy concerns. Jackson County, Independence and other local governments recently have set up their own system.

Under Greitens’ order, information about prescriptions does not go to doctors but instead to law enforcement. Williams and fellow county Legislator Dan Tarwater, D-Kansas City, said that turns the privacy argument on its head and that turning the information over to law enforcement is wrong.

“You just don’t do that. You don’t do it,” Williams said. They said it’s a contradiction for the governor to say the information will be deemed private on one hand but then turned over to law enforcement.

Williams said Greitens' approach will make the opioid problem worse, not better.

“It literally keeps people from getting help,” she said.

But state Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, read the governor’s action differently, seeing it as a means of going after doctors who overprescribe, not patients.

“He’s going after the issuer, the doctors,” said Kraus, who has been a chief opponent of the prescription drug database in the Senate, where one senator generally can bottle up legislation indefinitely.

“Yeah, I think it’s a good first step that identifies the overprescribing doctors,” Kraus said, adding that he wants to see how the program is implemented.

Williams suggested that the governor doesn’t have the power to gather the information and give it to law enforcement and said General Assembly action would be required.

“There’s a reason this has to be done legislatively,” she said.

The announcement by Greitens surprised lawmakers, many of whom were unaware such a program was under consideration. Almost immediately, Democrats questioned whether the order goes far enough while some Republicans expressed concerns about privacy.

Greitens signed the order following a news conference at Express Scripts, the St. Louis-based online pharmacy benefits manager that will help provide data analytics as part of the effort. Legislator Williams also questioned that, noting Express Scripts’ strong political connections.

The new program will focus on analyzing prescription and dispensing data and will not use private medical information of patients, according to Greitens, who said penalties for doctors intentionally overprescribing opioids could range up to criminal charges or loss of a medical license.

"We have to look at this problem straight in the eye, and the fact is opioids are a modern plague," the governor said.

 

-- The Associated Press contributed to this article.