Prescription drug monitoring bill clears PA Senate

By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

Legislation that would expand Pennsylvania’s drug-monitoring program cleared the state Senate this week, passing despite some concerns it would jeopardize patients’ privacy rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has stood firm in its opposition to Senate Bill 1180, taking issue with the fact it would allow prosecutors to access the program after obtaining a court order based only on reasonable suspicion, the same standard needed to search a student’s locker at school or a prison inmate’s cell.

That’s a much lower bar than the probable cause currently required to access the data, the ACLU said.

PRESCRIPTIONS AND PRIVACY: Legislation expanding Pennsylvania’s prescription drug-monitoring program cleared the state Senate this week despite continued concern about patients’ privacy rights.

“There are few areas of our daily lives that are more personal and more private than our medical information,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Our prescription medication records provide a window into our medical conditions. It is information that deserves heightened protection, not less protection.”

State Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland, sponsored the bill and painted it as a way to prevent drug abuse in a state that has the 14th-highest drug overdose mortality rate in the country.

In floor remarks, Vance said information from the prescription drug database can be used to secure a search or arrest warrant, but cannot be used as evidence at trial. She also said it limits information authorized users can search and includes provisions addressing the unlawful use of data.

“I believe that this legislation strikes the right balance between permitting law enforcement access to the prescription drug information and maintaining appropriate privacy,” Vance said.

The attorney general’s office already has a prescription drug monitoring program in which a private vendor collects dispensing data for drugs such as Adderol and Oxycontin, and law enforcement has access.

Vance’s legislation would expand data collection to include all drugs, including Level V controlled substances. That would cover anabolic steroids, hydrocodone-codeine and drugs such as Xanax.

While the legislation has been improved through revisions, Andy Hoover, the legislative director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, questioned whether it’s really about public health, given that “prosecutors have been among the biggest cheerleaders for this bill.”

“It is a continuation of the ‘prosecute and incarcerate’ mentality of the failed War on Drugs,” Hoover said in a statement.

The bill, which passed the Senate in a 47-2 vote, will head to the House, which has already passed drug-tracking legislation of its own.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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