If Missouri had a central prescription drug monitoring program, it would block criminals from other states coming to Franklin County and other parts of the state to fill multiple prescriptions, according to the head of the county’s drug task force.

“Missouri is the only state in the United States that doesn’t have a monitoring program,” said Detective Sgt. Jason Grellner, commander of the Franklin County Narcotics Enforcement Unit.

The task force last Friday investigated such a case that resulted in the arrest of two men and a woman from Kentucky, Grellner said.

Because it is a multi-state case, the investigation has been taken over by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

The three had gotten prescriptions for opioid medications from a doctor in Georgia, then came to eastern Missouri to get them filled to avoid being tracked in Kentucky’s data base system, Grellner explained.

Investigators believe the three have been doing that in this area since last October. After purchasing the prescription drugs, they would take them back and sell them illegally in Kentucky.  

“They would target smaller, independently owned pharmacies to get them (prescriptions) filled because the larger chain stores, like Wal-Mart and Walgreens, have their own internal monitoring programs,” Grellner explained.

Three pharmacies — Hall’s Pharmacy at Krakow, Heartland Pharmacy in Union and St. Clair Rexall — were targeted by the Kentucky suspects in the past, Grellner said. The owners became suspicious and notified the task force.

Grellner said several years ago, the task force set up a “tree phone” through which pharmacies could report any suspicious activities and the word would go out to all other pharmacies on the list.

After being contacted by those pharmacies, investigators arranged to arrest the suspects at one of the targeted pharmacies Friday morning.

“Because of those observant pharmacists, the Franklin County narcotics unit was able to find them and turn them over to the DEA,” Grellner said. “We want to thank the local pharmacies for alerting us.”

Grellner said prior to their arrests Friday, the suspects had prescriptions filled at a pharmacy in Cedar Hill in Jefferson County.

“They were seeing as many as five different doctors in five different states” to get prescriptions, Grellner said.

They would leave Kentucky on a Wednesday and spend the next several days getting prescriptions filled and return to Kentucky on Saturday, Grellner said.

On Friday, DEA agents told Grellner that they were also investigating a similar case with criminals from another state getting prescriptions filled in the Hannibal area in northern Missouri.

Grellner has been supporting legislation for a central drug monitoring program for Missouri.

“Without this legislation, we’re inviting criminals from around the U.S. to come to Missouri,” Grellner remarked.

He said measures to adopt prescription drug monitoring have failed in each of the last three Missouri legislative sessions, in large part due to one legislator —  Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-34, of the St. Joseph area in northwestern Missouri.

Schaaf, according to Grellner, has filibustered drug monitoring measures each time they’ve been introduced.