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Are our prescription drug records used for law enforcement? Pt. 1

Florida’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, or PDMP, is under fire again. The PDMP, which was created to help doctors avoid overprescribing addictive prescription drugs, requires doctors and pharmacists to report prescribing or dispensing Schedule II, III, and IV controlled substances. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida recently brought forward evidence that both the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and state law enforcement agencies appear to have direct access to the health care database.

Despite denials by the Florida Department of Health and the DEA that law enforcement agents can access the database without a court order, the ACLU believes these confidential patient records are being used to gather evidence of prescription drug crimes, such as doctors running pill mills or doctor shopping by patients seeking unjustified prescriptions.

E-FORCSE, or the “Electronic - Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substances Evaluation” program, is run by the Department of Health and is supposed to be subject to doctor-patient confidentiality. That means that accessing patient records in E-FORCSE should require a warrant.

Indeed, late last month a Florida circuit court judge here in Daytona Beach ruled that a court order is required for anyone but doctors to access the database. Furthermore, a memo from Florida’s Attorney General posted on the E-FORCSE website confirms it.

The home page of the E-FORCSE website says, “The purpose of the PDMP is to provide the information that will be collected in the database to health care practitioners to guide their decisions in prescribing and dispensing these highly-abused prescription drugs.” It adds that it complies with all federal and state laws protecting patient privacy. Nothing is said about preventing doctor shopping or shutting down pill mills.

Nevertheless, a local criminal defense attorney learned earlier this year that the E-FORCSE records of more than 3,000 Volusia County residents, including his own, had been released to other defense lawyers. He filed a lawsuit in June challenging the constitutionality of the database.

The ACLU suspects that at least 60 law enforcement investigators have had direct access to query the database over the past three years.

Next week, part 2 of this post will discuss the ACLU’s recommendations and the criticism that the E-FORCSE database may be in unconstitutional in more detail.

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