The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is arguing that by submitting your prescription to a pharmacy, you should not expect that record to be kept private.
It's responding to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenging the DEA's practice of obtaining private medical information without a warrant.
The case centers on records in a state database, the Oregon Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), aimed at tracking prescriptions to thwart fraud and abuse. Oregon state law requires law enforcement to obtain a probable cause warrant from a judge before requesting records from the database, but the DEA has been requesting records using administrative subpoenas, which do not involve judicial authorization or probable cause, according to an ACLU blog post.
Using the "third-party doctrine," the DEA is arguing that by handing that information over to a third party, patients have no expectation of privacy. It's likening that information to a homeowner's utility usage records that are held by a power company or room registration information held by a motel. A U.S. appellate court recently found that accessing power company records does not require a warrant.
The four patients involved in the lawsuit have prescriptions that would reveal sensitive personal information about them, including gender identity, HIV status, mental illness and more, reports UPI.com.
The ACLU has called the DEA arguments "absurd."
Lawmakers in Missouri have so far pressed their privacy concerns to the extent that it's the only U.S. state that has not at least passed legislation to track prescriptions as a way to discourage "doctor shopping" for painkillers.
The consumer advocacy group the Citizens' Council for Health Freedom in a report recently sounded alarms over the collection of health information in massive databases under the guise of "public health"--but often without patients' consent.
And several states are reviewing how information from public health agencies is used when it is sold to data miners after a Bloomberg journalist revealed how patients could be reidentified with just a few pieces of information.