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Privacy Being Tightened for Prescription Drug Monitoring Databases

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The privacy of information contained in prescription drug monitoring databases is being tightened, The Wall Street Journal reports. Privacy advocates hail the trend, while law enforcement officials say it is hampering their attempts to curb prescription drug abuse.

Some courts and lawmakers are beginning to restrict access to the databases, citing a violation of privacy rights. A U.S. court in Oregon ruled in February that federal agents needed a warrant to search the state’s database. Rhode Island has made it more difficult for law enforcement to search its database. In Florida and Pennsylvania, lawmakers are considering measures that would limit access to its prescription drug data.

“The public and lawmakers are really starting to understand what kinds of threats to privacy come when we start centralizing great quantities of our sensitive personal information in giant electronic databases,” said Nathan Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. The group represented patients and a doctor who challenged the Drug Enforcement Administration in the Oregon case.

Forty-eight states have prescription monitoring databases for drugs that have a high potential for abuse. Law enforcement officials in 17 states must have court approval before they search their state database. While Vermont does not allow law enforcement access to its database, other states generally make it fairly easy for investigators to access the data.

The number of law enforcement searches of Utah’s database increased from 2,288 in 2007, to more than 19,000 last year. Police must show they have a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime in order to gain a search warrant.

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