Civil Liberties

Following the Scrip

Medical privacy in Florida


The Florida legislature has declined to go along with Gov. Jeb Bush's attempt to turn a family problem into a problem for the whole state.

In January, Bush's daughter Noelle was nabbed while using a forged prescription to procure the tranquilizer Xanax at a Tallahassee drug store. In the aftermath, the governor pushed for a new law to ensure that future Noelle Bushes would have government watchers, not merely supportive families, to help control their "substance abuse."

The bill would have created a state database of controlled drug prescriptions, complete with the name and address of the buyer, to make it easier for police to detect patterns of lawbreaking. When the bill failed to pass in the legislature's normal session, the governor had it added to the agenda for a special session in May, during which the Senate passed it but the House failed to vote on it.

Larry Spalding, who tracks legislation for Florida's branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, says at least 16 states already have similar databases. Such databases potentially provide "easy one-stop shopping for stalkers, nosy coworkers, bitter ex-spouses, corrupt cops, and the like," notes James Plummer of the National Consumer Coalition's Privacy Group. The Florida bill had pro forma requirements that only government officials and doctors could access the database, but it had no punishment provisions for violators, leaving the door open to abuse.

Ironically, the proposed law would not have covered Xanax. It covered only Schedule II and III drugs; Xanax (alprazolam) is on Schedule IV. But the bill did allow the state Department of Health to add new drugs to the list at its discretion.