Drug database changes under fire from ACLU
Proposed changes to a state-run prescription drug database won't do anything to protect patient privacy, civil rights lawyers argued on Tuesday.
Florida Department of Health officials say they want to tighten security on the state's prescription-drug monitoring program, after the names and detailed prescription-drug histories of more than 3,000 people were released to defense attorneys after a drug sting in May.
The draft rule changes, discussed at a department workshop Tuesday, are "minor, inconsequential and fail to address the practical issues" that led to the release of private data of thousands of people who weren't under investigation, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida lobbyist Pamela Burch Fort said during the meeting.
But law enforcement officials complained that at least one of the proposals would hamstring investigators.
The proposed rule would limit distribution of records obtained from database searches to a single authorized user at any given agency.
Quincy Police Chief Walter McNeil, representing the Florida Police Chiefs Association, said that's too restrictive.
Allowing more law-enforcement personnel to have access to the records won't make patient privacy more vulnerable, McNeil said later.
"For the most part, you'll find that most agencies guard confidential information confidentially. What most agencies will do is treat this information sacrosanctly and make sure that it's kept in-house," said McNeil, a former secretary of both the state Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Corrections.
Becky Poston, the administrator of the database, told McNeil the agency would consider incorporating his suggestions, also backed up by the Florida Sheriffs Association.
Representatives of the two law-enforcement organizations and the ACLU were the only ones who spoke at Tuesday's 30-minute workshop.
Lucy Gee, director of the Department of Health's Medical Quality Assurance Division, said the agency's goal is to safeguard patient privacy.
"That's our number one mission here is the safety, the protection of private patient information," she said. "We expected to get some input from some others. We're trying all different kinds of ideas and we want to be sure that it meets law enforcement's needs but it also protects public information."
But ACLU lawyer Maria Kayanan said broadening distribution of the records would be going backwards.
"It seems like the original purpose of this PDMP (prescription drug monitoring program) has been lost in the fray and now it's a law-enforcement tool rather than a helping tool for physicians to identify patients that may be doctor-shopping. That's certainly not what it was sold as," Kayanan.