Florida's Prescription Drug Database Pits Access Against Privacy

Jul 8, 2013

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is recommending law enforcement have warrants before approaching state health officials for patient information housed in the drug database. The recommendation comes after information on more than 3,000 individuals was released to prosecutors and defense attorneys as probe into doctor shopping in Central Florida.

Over the course of a few months, the DEA made several inquiries into Florida’s prescription drug monitoring database that netted the names of 3,300 Volusia County residents. Information obtained included their addresses, phone numbers and prescriptions for medications such as the painkiller oxycodone. The ACLU of Florida’s Assistant Legal Director Maria Kyanan calls it a fishing expedition:

“Law enforcement doesn’t have to use a specific name of an individual. They can use a wildcard search, they can use a “sounds like” search...searches like that that encourage unspecific, very broad fishing expeditions that yield 3,300 names. And that’s not what the PDMD was for," said Maria Kayanan, the ACLU of Florida's Assistant Legal Director.

Under current law, doctors and pharmacists have direct access to the database, and law enforcement officials can request information through a query to the Florida Department of Health, which oversees the system. But a warrant isn’t needed to make the request. The ACLU of Florida wants to change that. But law enforcement officials disagree:

“I don’t have a problem with redacting other people’s names who aren’t involved in the investigation. But having to obtain a subpoena or a warrant to obtain that information would slow that process and put us going backward rather than forward in my opinion," said former Duval County Sheriff's Office Investigator Lori Abromowitz.

The prescription drug database was created in 2009 to crack down on doctor shopping and so-called pill mills. Over the past few years, The release of information stems from a federal probe into doctor shopping that came about because doctors noticed some of their prescription pads were missing. One man learned his name was handed over to authorities from a defense attorney. He is suing the state.