It started with unscrupulous doctors in other states sending drug addicts to Missouri to get their illegal prescriptions filled.

Now there’s information that some of those same doctors are looking to locate clinics here to dispense prescriptions to pill shoppers because Missouri is the only state that doesn’t have a prescription tracking system.

That’s based on intelligence gleaned from interviews with suspects from Kentucky and other states who have been arrested here, and from narcotics investigators in states where the doctors are located, according to Detective Sgt. Jason Grellner, head of the Franklin County Narcotics Enforcement Unit.

It’s occurring here because Missouri lawmakers repeatedly have blocked efforts to establish a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP).

Bills have been proposed for a number of years, as well as this session, but have never gained traction.

Grellner is an executive board member with the National Meth and Pharmaceutical Initiative. At a recent conference in Charleston, S.C., Grellner said he spoke with investigators from other states who had uncovered information that pill mill doctors in Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Tennessee are talking about moving to Missouri to set up clinics.

“This is very troubling news,” Grellner said.

“We had heard that from some of the suspects we arrested here, but now it’s been confirmed by our counterparts in other states,” Grellner said. “Not only are the doctors telling their clients to get their prescriptions filled here, they’re advising them that they are looking to set up shop in Missouri.”

The problem of pill shoppers coming to Missouri to avoid monitoring programs came to light earlier this year when county drug task force investigators arrested two men and a woman from Kentucky who attempted to fill multiple prescriptions for opiates and painkillers at several local pharmacies.

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.

The task force later learned that at least 16 different people came to Missouri from other states to get prescriptions filled.

The suspects target smaller, independently owned pharmacies to get prescriptions filled because the larger chain stores, like Wal-Mart and Walgreens, have their own internal monitoring programs.

During one investigation, officers seized a notebook that identified independent pharmacies along a route from Springfield, Mo., to St. Louis.

In nearby Kentucky, before a PDMP was adopted it took 160-180 days to investigate a doctor shopping case, Grellner said. Since that state established a monitoring program, that has dropped to 20 days.

Larger Problem

Grellner noted that while pill doctors from other states is a serious issue, the larger problem is with legitimate doctors who may be over prescribing opioid medications.

He said there is a nationwide effort under way to retrain doctors regarding the use of those prescription medications.

New information shows that the addiction rate for non-cancer patients treated long term with prescription opioids is between 26 and 52 percent.

He stressed that it’s still very important for Missouri to adopt a PDMP as soon as possible.

“Even if we could get it passed this year it would be at least 18 to 36 months before it would be up and running,” Grellner said.

“Every year we don’t pass one it puts us further behind.”