iOS app Android app More

Maia Szalavitz

Maia Szalavitz

Posted: December 4, 2007 11:15 AM

Cops Become Drugstore Cowboys in Vermont; 4th Amendment Officially Dead


Most politicians support measures like so-called "prescription monitoring programs" mindlessly, figuring that if allowing the government access to medical records of scummy drug addicts will reduce their numbers, all is good.

But when state police start entering pharmacies to get full prescribing records of anyone taking a Schedule II controlled substance like Oxycontin-- as the Green Mountain Daily blog [hat tip to Daily Kos] says is now happening in Vermont-- perhaps they'll wake up and smell the sickly odor of the death of the 4th Amendment. In the eyes of the police, every pain patient -- and consider that some 30 percent of the population suffers some form of chronic pain -- is junky slime.

Says Siobhan Reynolds, founder of the indispensable Pain Relief Network, "We saw from the beginning of the government's shift to the "war on prescription drug abuse" that this was where this whole thing was headed. Until now, the systematic violation of patient's 4th Amendment rights was more or less hidden from public view. Now, the Vermont police have pulled back the veil for all of us to see the vicious witch hunt being perpetrated against people unfortunate enough to require Controlled Substances for the treatment of serious illness."

Just contemplate for a moment how much information your complete prescription records give to the police. From this data, the cops can tell if you suffer depression, HIV, anxiety, herpes, impotence, cancer and many other disorders many people prefer not to broadcast. If there is any information that should be protected from warrantless fishing expeditions, it's gotta be your pharmacy records. If the supposed health care privacy act HIPAA is anything more than a paperwork tree-killing bonanza, it must prohibit this ridiculous type of data mining. But Vermont pharmacists are being told that it doesn't.

Even politicians have gotta wonder: do I really want the state looking at my Viagra script?

As Benjamin Franklin put it, "those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." And in this instance, these measures don't even increase security.

Giving the police access to private medical records does not root out addiction-- for one, even according to the research, [PDF] most prescription drug abusers don't actually get their drugs from doctors. They get them from friends and family and on the street (and most of the street supply is diverted higher up the chain, not from doctors). And the vast majority of prescription drug misusers did not start out as pain patients: they started out as users of illicit drugs.

Cops think that possession of a high dose prescription for opioids is a sign of drug abuse-- but it's more likely to be a sign of severe pain, well treated.

Says Reynolds, "Sick people in America are fair game. Period." It's about time that everyone in America realizes that if you allow a drug war exception to the Fourth Amendment, the Constitution is effectively moot.

Update: Ironically, right now, there is a Senate Judiciary Hearing going on regarding electronic prescribing of controlled substances and ensuring that law enforcement concerns are considered! No one specifically representing patient interests appears to be testifying.