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Officials say county may take on drug monitoring

St. Charles County may create its own prescription drug monitoring program if the Missouri General Assembly fails to create a statewide registry.

County Executive Steve Ehlmann said on March 3 that the St. Charles County Council is “interested in the issue” and will watch what happens in the Missouri Senate to legislation passed by the House earlier that day. If that legislation is killed, the council may look at passing a bill to establish its own program, he said. The program would be similar to a bill recently enacted by St. Louis County.

Missouri is the only state in the country without a database or system to track the sale of opiates and controlled substances. Previous efforts during past legislative sessions have been derailed by legislators worried about privacy rights.

‘We’re hopeful that it does well in the Senate,” Ehlmann told about 100 people attending a town hall discussion on heroin and opiate misuse on March 3 at the main branch of the St. Charles County Library in St. Peters.

“If it [the legislation] does not [pass], we’re very conscious of what’s been going on in St. Louis County,” he said. “We have our people working on the ordinance, which they [the St. Louis County Council] passed, to see if such a program could be successfully initiated here in St. Charles County.”

Drugs such as Oxycontin and Vicodin are prescribed to treat pain, but can cause addiction. The monitoring program might help prevent “doctor shopping” where abusers go through a number of different doctors to get prescriptions.

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger has signed a similar bill into law, creating the drug monitoring program after the St. Louis County Council unanimously passed their bill on March 2.

“Heroin is a deadly epidemic in our region,” Stenger said in an article on the county’s website. “Four out of five heroin users begin with the abuse of prescription drugs. This program is an important step in fighting this public health crisis.”

Heroin and opiate abuse were the major topics at the March 3 town hall discussion, the last of four events held in St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, St. Louis Mental Health Board, Community and Children’s Resource Board of St. Charles County and St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund were among the groups involved with the discussions.

Health care providers and counseling organizations distributed information, and Ehlmann and representatives from families who had lost loved ones to heroin or opiate abuse spoke.

Ehlmann, who also called heroin and opiate abuse an “epidemic,” said that in 2014, 39 people died of heroin-related overdoses in St. Charles County. County police have responded to 323 heroin-related calls and 84 heroin overdoses since 2013.

In November, the St. Charles County police department became the first law enforcement agency in the St. Louis area to carry Narcan in patrol vehicles. Narcan is a heroin antidote that can save the lives of overdose victims.

The county also has stepped up investigative and prosecution efforts and education initiatives in local schools. The county prosecuting attorney’s office is seeking mandatory sentencing for drug sellers.

“If you sell heroin in St. Charles County, you will go to prison,” Ehlmann said.

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