JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo. – The numbers are in and they're not good for Jefferson County.
A prescription drug monitoring program, or PDMP, launched last year across 32 Missouri cities and counties found Jefferson County has the third-highest rate of controlled substance prescriptions.
Those numbers are concerning to some who pushed for the PDMP. But they feel the program is working by providing more hard evidence of the drug problem across Missouri.
Pharmax Pharmacy manager Erin Gooch spends plenty of time at her location in Festus filling prescriptions for potentially-addictive opioid medicines that are tracked by the PDMP.
“It’s every day,” said Gooch.
Numbers from the Jefferson County PDMP show an average of 2.1 prescriptions per resident. That's higher than the 1.6 average across all other locations in the program. Opioids comprised approximately 40 percent of all controlled substances dispensed.
Gooch said that alone isn't necessarily a bad thing.
“We have lots of access to medical care. So, I think that could be a reason for more prescriptions,” she said.
What is bad is the fact overdose deaths more than doubled the number of people killed in car crashes in Jefferson County in 2016. Gooch said the PDMP makes it easier for pharmacists to say no to people who may be abusing or diverting the medicines.
“I never send a prescription out that I don't feel confident with,” said Gooch.
Jefferson County Health Department director Kelley Vollmar isn’t afraid to face the facts.
“Jefferson County has had a drug problem for a long time,” said Vollmar.
That's why she pushed for the PDMP. Vollmar knows not all prescriptions are being abused.
“But, the more that are out there the more potential there is for abuse.”
Vollmar's department is now working with physicians to change prescribing patterns. Health department workers are also partnering with law enforcement, prevention groups, treatment facilities and pharmacists like Erin Gooch to educate patients.
“We're encouraging alternatives to opioids,” said Gooch.
Both Vollmar and Gooch said the point of the PDMP is not to get rid of opioids altogether. Rather, the program is designed to make sure patients have safe, effective treatment while cracking down on abuse and overdoses.
The PDMP launched in St. Louis County in early 2017. By July, 27 cities and counties were on board. It now covers nearly 80 percent of the state's population and some lawmakers hope it will keep growing.