My home state of Georgia may soon join those states that have enacted “Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs,” thereby making individual citizen’s prescription records subject to easier state and federal government snooping. Already nearly three dozen states have such programs in place, a primary reason for which is to receive federal grants.
In Georgia, the legislation is being pushed by Republicans, and the bill (HB 614) passed the state House by a wide margin earlier this month and awaits action in the Senate.
The prescription-drug monitoring program this legislation creates would result in a massive database of prescriptions for patients throughout Georgia, to be gathered and accessed without any basis to suspect the patient or the prescribing doctor of any wrongdoing. The prescription and over-the-counter drugs that would be required to be monitored and reported include all those contained on federal and state controlled substances schedules; including, for example, pain medications, sleeping aids, Ritalin, cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, and many others.
The database thus created would be maintained and administered by the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency, whose head is appointed not elected. The information comprising the database would include patients’ names and addresses, dates of birth, and the name, strength and quantity of each covered prescription, and more.
The purpose of the legislation, although couched deceptively as necessary to “improve health care quality and effectiveness,” is obviously to make it easier for law enforcement and regulatory agencies to discover alleged “pill pushers” and prescription abusers without having to go through the normal — and constitutionally appropriate — process of obtaining subpoenas and warrants (in other words, without having to first develop at least some evidence that a person may be violating the law before invading their medical privacy). The fact that enactment of such a database would open federal grant coffers is, of course, an added incentive for Georgia and other states to undermine citizens’ privacy.
This program, which is being heavily supported by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, presents a very real danger to the privacy of a person’s most intimate information. Moreover, insofar as state and federal regulators already are able to secure access to such information if they have a legitimate need to do so, it is clear this privacy-invasive legislation is not necessary. However, in this age when fear drives the citizenry to surrender private information to the government of the types and quantities undreamed of just a few years ago, such concerns with privacy and constitutionality often fold in the face of fear-driven efforts by government officials at all levels.