Florida Judge Rules Government Can Search Prescription Drug Monitoring Database

February 21, 2014

medicalOn February 19, 2014, a Florida appeals judge dismissed a case challenging the release of prescription drug histories of more than 3,300. The judge’s ruling states that the government’s interest in regulating prescription drugs outweighs patients’ expectation of privacy.

The original lawsuit was brought by Daytona Beach lawyer Michael Lambert in June 2013, after state attorneys obtained his records from the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database during an unrelated forgery investigation. Mr. Lambert argued in the lawsuit that the database violated Florida’s Constitution and invaded innocent people’s privacy.

The Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program was launched in 2011, to track prescriptions for painkillers and highly addictive medications. Original concerns that delayed its implementation in Florida include those about breach of the confidentiality of patient medical information. This has now become a reality.

Background of Lawsuit.

Back in June 2013, a list of 3,300 Floridians’ names, addresses, phone numbers, pharmacies and drug dosages prescribed were leaked as part of criminal investigations by state, local and federal agents. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and others allegedly queried the prescription drug database for the prescription drug history of four doctors and their pharmacies, along with six individuals accused of writing phony prescriptions for pain medications. The search supposedly brought up 3,300 names and drug histories. The records were turned over to the office of Florida State Attorney R.J. Larizza in the 7th Judicial Circuit. Allegedly, the state attorney’s office released the information to five of the six lawyers representing defendants in the drug cases.

After the list had been released, Mr. Lambert discovered his name on the list and filed his lawsuit.

The Reason the Judge Threw Out Case.

The judge threw out this case. In his order, the judge wrote that law enforcement’s obtaining the prescription drug records of the 3,300 people “did not violate the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The judge also stated that a person’s expectation of privacy regarding their prescription records should be reduced since the Legislature requires that copies of the records be maintained.

Florida Prescription Database Not for Disciplinary or Criminal Prosecution Purposes.

The prescription database was not intended to be used for criminal prosecution or law enforcement purposes. Yet it is routinely being used to prosecute physicians, pharmacists and pharmacies among others. There is no surprise that there would be “leaks” of confidential patient information in the database given all of the access and usage in criminal cases.

To learn more about the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database and its intended use, click here.

Comments?

What do you think about the lawsuit by Mr. Lambert? Do you think the government’s interest in regulating prescription drugs should outweigh patients’ expectation of privacy? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.