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Medical and Privacy Groups Decry Legislation Granting Police Access to Prescription Records

Posted: April 13, 2016|Category: Criminal Justice Police Practices Privacy The "War on Drugs"

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Following the bill's approval by the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare today, Rhode Island Medical Society, Rhode Island Health Center Association, Rhode Island Academy of Physician Assistants, Rhode Island Dental Association, Rhode Island Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island criticized legislation to permit law enforcement access to Rhode Islanders' prescription drug history without a warrant.

The state's prescription drug monitoring program (PMP) contains information on virtually all scheduled drugs prescribed in Rhode Island by a health care provider, including painkillers, anti-seizure medication, mood stabilizers, diet pills and sleep aids. Presently, Rhode Island is one of eighteen states that requires police to obtain a warrant before accessing records within the PMP. H 7518, introduced on behalf of the Attorney General and approved by the HEW Committee, removes that requirement.

The groups criticized the legislation for "undermining attempts to deal with the opioid crisis as a medical issue rather than a criminal one," and said the legislation would leave chronic pain sufferers and other ill Rhode Islanders wide open for suspicion and investigation based on legitimate prescriptions, while dissuading doctors from prescribing medication to their patients out of fear of unfairly being accused of criminal activity.

Steve DeToy, director of government and public affairs of the Rhode Island Medical Society, noted, "Rhode Island has a long history of strong patient confidentiality laws. Patient records should not be tools for law enforcement without the oversight of the judiciary. The PMP was designed as a clinical tool for physicians to make the best informed patient care decisions. The patient information in the PMP should remain confidential, and outside the realm of law enforcement without appropriate judicial oversight."

James Carney, director of government relations, Rhode Island Academy of Physician Assistants, said, "To allow law enforcement access to patients' medical information in the PMP database clearly violates patient-provider confidentiality standards and is incongruent with the goals of the PMP."

Jane A. Hayward, President and CEO of the Rhode Island Health Center Association, said, "The Rhode Island Health Center Association recognizes that there is a very real and urgent need to solve the opioid overdose crisis in our state. We do not believe, however, that this legislation would be in the best interest of patients who rely on privacy statutes regarding their personal health information, nor would it resolve the increase in opioid overdose deaths. We believe that judicial review should remain the standard by which law enforcement is able to access this information."

ACLU of Rhode Island policy associate Hillary Davis noted, "This legislation sanctions nothing less than the wide-spread investigation into the medical history of every Rhode Islander. A warrant simply provides a judicial check to ensure investigations are legitimate and based on evidence rather than out-of-context lists of medication. We do not allow police to look through a person's medicine cabinet on demand, and should not allow similar action simply because the information exists within a centralized database."

The groups called upon the House of Representatives to oppose the legislation.

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