Civil Liberties

The Dangers of Federal Snooping into Our Prescription Drug Records


Former Reason man Radley Balko from his new perch at the Washington Post points out the dangers of prescription drug user databases, especially when government agencies get access to them without court order.

After discussing a recent legal challenge to the practice in Oregon, and how Pennsylvania is trying to create more records of its citizens prescription drug use for government snoops to enjoy:

Imagine a law enforcement officer looking for ammunition in a divorce or custody dispute. Or perhaps a politician who takes the wrong position on police pensions or police accountability might see his painkiller scripts leaked to the press. (That sort of retaliation wouldn't be unheard of.) Moraff points out that Virginia's prescription database has already been accessed by hackers, who then threatened to release the records of 8 million people.

But [there's a] less obvious problem—the chilling effect this will have on doctors. For example, one of the red flags federal investigators look for when looking for doctors to accuse of "drug dealing" is the overall number of prescriptions a given doctor writes for various controlled drugs. That means that as he's deciding your course of treatment, or whether to prescribe opioids to improve your mother's quality of life as she's dying from terminal cancer, he'll be thinking about how many scripts for those drugs he may have already written for other patients. It's an intrusion on the doctor-patient relationship, and could influence a doctor's decisions about a patient's treatment with factors that have nothing to do what's best for that particular patient.

Jacob Sullum's 1997 classic on the unconscionable war on pain meds needs to be read and re-read.

Previous Reason writings on 'scrip drug databases.