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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Prescription Drug Database Privacy In Question

The scourge of prescription drug abuse continues across the United States, with more prescription narcotics being given to patients who either abuse or sell the drugs on the black market. In the last few years every attempt to curb the ever growing problem seems to be thwarted. Prescription drug databases do not work together on a national level, making it easy for people to take advantage of the system by doctor shopping.

In an attempt to curb the prescription drug epidemic, law enforcement officials have been using prescription drug monitoring systems (in the states that have them) to arrest people who they feel are using prescription drugs inappropriately. Unfortunately, the ability to use the databases for tracking offenders is being hampered because the privacy of information contained in prescription drug monitoring databases is being tightened, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Almost every state, forty-eight, have a prescription drug database in one form or another, that compile data on narcotics that are often abused. In seventeen states a warrant is required to gain access to information. There are a number of states that make it easy for officials to access the data. However, Vermont does not allow any access to the database, except for those in the medical field.

There are many who feel that it is a violation of privacy when law enforcement accesses the databases, which has lead to privacy advocates imploring courts and lawmakers to restrict access to the databases. In recent months Rhode Island made it harder to gain access to drug databases. In February, a court in Oregon ruled that federal agents needed a warrant to gain access to the state's database. Lawmakers from both Florida and Pennsylvania are considering measures that restrict access.

“The public and lawmakers are really starting to understand what kinds of threats to privacy come when we start centralizing great quantities of our sensitive personal information in giant electronic databases,” said Nathan Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

There is no question about the importance of privacy, but it could easily be argued that law enforcement would not need access to the prescription drug databases if doctors would use the databases to determine if their patients were being prescribed by multiple doctors. Furthermore, if the databases were connected on a national level, it would make it much more difficult for people to abuse the system.
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