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    News-Record (North Carolina): Privacy an issue with access to drug database

    The News-Record reports on an issue that could affect patients’ medical privacy:

    When the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association asked for access to a state prescription drug database this week, some found the thought unsettling: local law enforcement looking over who is prescribed what, without warning or a warrant. […]

    State officials and privacy advocates say the issue is more complicated than the Big Brother concerns it inspires.

    Since 2007, pharmacists in North Carolina have been required to report the filling of certain prescriptions to a state database maintained by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services . The database is only for controlled substances scheduled by the Drug Enforcement Agency — pain killers, stimulants, sedatives and tranquilizers. It does not include prescriptions for things like birth control or allergy medication.

    William Bronson is the program manager for the Drug Control Unit at DHHS. He said the database is meant to prevent “doctor shopping,” the practice of one patient going to many providers to get more drugs than they should safely be prescribed. But the State Bureau of Investigation can access the database in drug investigations. Bronson said only 14 agents have access and they must notify the state attorney general’s office when they use it.

    Sarah Preston thinks that’s already too many people. She’s the policy director for the North Carolina branch of the American Civil Liberties Union . Her group opposed expanding access to the database three years ago. She said there’s little or no difference now.

    “It’s a pretty basic privacy interest problem,” Preston said. “It violates the Fourth Amendment. If law enforcement wants access to that kind of private information, they should have to go get a warrant.”

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