The ACLU is Right

It’s no great secret that the war on drugs has not been so very friendly to the U.S. Constitution. So, with prescription pharmaceuticals one of the latest fronts in this interminable conflict, along (the ACLU complains) comes this:

The Drug Enforcement Administration is trying to access private prescription records of patients in Oregon without a warrant, despite a state law forbidding it from doing so. The ACLU and its Oregon affiliate are challenging this practice in a new case that raises the question of whether the Fourth Amendment allows federal law enforcement agents to obtain confidential prescription records without a judge’s prior approval. It should not….

 In 2009, the Oregon legislature created the Oregon Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), which tracks prescriptions for certain drugs dispensed by Oregon pharmacies… The program was intended to help physicians prevent drug overdoses by their patients and more easily recognize signs of drug abuse. Because the medical information revealed by these prescription records is highly sensitive, the legislature created robust privacy and security protections for the PDMP, including a requirement that law enforcement must obtain a warrant before requesting records for use in an investigation. But despite those protections, the DEA has been requesting prescription records from the PDMP using administrative subpoenas which, unlike warrants, do not involve demonstrating probable cause to a neutral judge.

 The State of Oregon sued the DEA in federal court to defend its right to require law enforcement, including federal agencies, to obtain the warrants required by state law. Today, the ACLU filed a motion to intervene in the case on behalf of several patients and a doctor whose prescription records are contained in the PDMP. Our clients are concerned that the privacy of their medical information will be violated if the DEA is allowed to search through prescription records without a warrant. If the DEA can demonstrate to a judge that it has probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that prescription records will provide evidence of that crime, then it can legitimately obtain records from the PDMP. Because prescription records and the medical information they reveal are such a sensitive matter, protecting their privacy is vital, and we argue that obtaining private and confidential prescription records without a warrant constitutes an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

 One would think so.

 H/t: Reason

  1. CoolHand

    Yeah, it’s significant, that much we agree on.  I’m pretty sure it’s even a problem out here in the sticks, on par with meth, though probably to a different clientele.

    It amazes me the lengths that people will go to in order to do something that is illegal and not super profitable.

    Imagine what neat stuff we might have invented or what diseases we might have already cured if all the people who were bending their particular cleverness toward making and selling drugs or stealing in creative ways or whatever, instead focused their energy on doing something useful.

    I am constantly amazed how hard criminals will work to steal copper wire, but then appear entirely allergic to honest “accomplishing something” work.  It makes no sense to me.

  2. CoolHand

    We wouldn’t even be having this discussion if such an all encompassing database filled with such sensitive information did not exist.

    I agree that the data is sensitive, and I agree that DEA has no business shopping through it looking for people whose assets they can seize (and you know that’s what they’re doing), but if this giant database didn’t exist, there would be no treasure trove of information for them to salivate over in the first place.

    In any and every instance, data mining leads to bureaucratic overreach, full stop.

    If the bureaucrats know about a thing, they cannot resist futzing with it.

    Ergo, it is in all of our (and freedom’s) best interest to limit and roll back govt efforts to aggregate data and cross tab it to be searchable.

    The more data they have on you, the easier it is to control you.

    Privacy?  What privacy?

  3. cdor

    …and what about Obamacare? They are already forcing Doctors to record all patients visits AND what is discussed with those patients, into a national database. HIPPA does not extend to the Federal Government. Ask your Doctor what info on yourself he is giving to the Feds.

  4. Devereaux

    Then there is, of course, the whole question of what probable cause has given the TSA the right to paw through millions of citizens’ private property, and seize silly items that they have deemed “dangerous”. Like nail files.

    For 10 years we have watched this government agency grow, and make more and more intrusive demands on regular citizens, with absolutely no cause whatsoever. ?Who said we can’t bring a pocket knife onto an airplane. ?Who said we can’t enter a public area – to wit an airport without first submitting to having our persons and property searched – and for what. ?Who said there was ANY probable cause for such a search.

    The issue of airplane hijacking was solved early in the process with hardened doors to the cockpit. The rest of this has been posturing and intimidation. Time for it to stop.

  5. Elizabeth Van Horn

    First, let me say, “Oh good!  Someone that reads Reason!”  : ) 

    Second, yes, the ACLU is correct, the DEA and our federal government has once again trampled on the Bill of Rights.   Personally, I think the DEA should be disbanded.  It’s a gross misuse of tax dollars, and there’s nothing they do that is neccessary.

  6. DocJay

    Let’s think about the fact that prescription drug abuse is rampant in our society. We consume 70 percent of the world’s opiates. We are a nation of psychologically defective sniveling wimps that run to the doctor to alter reality. Now, how can this issue be addressed without the Feds snooping in to decent folks lives? Warrants from a judge seem warranted here instead of another agency having carte blanche. The issues the DEA are going after, bogus drug doctors and professional patients selling opioids, are an issue that must be addressed. These pharmaceuticals, opioids and benzodiazepines, are not pot or mushrooms. They are BIGGER than individuals, destroy lives, and have tremendous collateral damage when abused. The problems are very real and need solutions that allow privacy. How is the issue.

  7. CoolHand

    Perhaps something that relies on the doctor’s good sense?

    That won’t stop crooked doctors, but I find it difficult to believe that the main cause of this problem is complicit doctors.

    This is way outside my expertise, but IMO no matter what the question, involving the govt is always the very last solution that should be looked at.

  8. DocJay

    CoolHand, the bad docs are tough to police, but it does happen at least outside of Florida. The professional patients are the tricky ones. Yes, involving the government is the last thing to do, I was just stating the issue is significant in my opinion.

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