Association says access to prescription lists is key to drug enforcement effort.
By Lynn Bonner
Posted: Wednesday, Sep. 08, 2010
Sheriffs in North Carolina want access to state computer records
identifying anyone with prescriptions for powerful painkillers and
other controlled substances.
The state sheriff's association pushed the idea Tuesday, saying
the move would help them make drug arrests and curb a growing problem of
prescription drug abuse. But patient advocates say opening up people's
medicine cabinets to law enforcement would deal a devastating blow to
Allowing sheriffs' offices and other law enforcement officials to
use the state's computerized list would vastly widen the circle of
people with access to information on prescriptions written for millions
of people. As it stands now, doctors and pharmacists are the main users.
Nearly 30 percent of state residents received at least one
prescription for a controlled substance, anything from Ambien to
OxyContin, in the first six months of this year, according to the state
Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly 2.5 million people
filled prescriptions in that time for more than 375 million doses. The
computer database has about 53.5 million prescriptions in it.
Sheriffs made their pitch Tuesday to a legislative health care
committee looking for ways to confront prescription drug abuse. Local
sheriffs said that more people in their counties die of accidental
overdoses than from homicides.
For years, sheriffs have been trying to convince legislators that the state's prescription records should be open to them.
"We can better go after those who are abusing the system," said Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter.
Others say opening up patients' medicine cabinets to law enforcement is a terrible idea.
"I am very concerned about the potential privacy issues for
people with pain," said Candy Pitcher of Cary, who volunteers for the
nonprofit American Pain Foundation. "I don't feel that I should have to
sign away my privacy rights just because I take an opioid under doctor's
The ACLU opposed a bill in 2007 that would have opened the list
to law enforcement officials, said ACLU lobbyist Sarah Preston. The
organization would probably object to the new proposal.
"What really did concern us is the privacy aspect," she said.
Opening the record to more users could deter someone from getting
necessary medicine because of the fear that others would find out, she
said, "particularly in small towns where everybody knows everybody."
The state started collecting the information in 2007 to help
doctors identify patients who go from doctor to doctor looking for
prescription drugs they may not need, and to keep pharmacists from
supplying patients with too many pills. But only about 20 percent of the
state's doctors have registered to use the information, and only 10
percent of the pharmacies are registered.
Many chain pharmacies aren't connected to the Internet, said Andy Ellen, a lobbyist for the N.C. Retail Merchants Association.
Pharmacy computers work on closed systems so they won't be
vulnerable to computer viruses that could slow or crash their networks.
Pharmacies are trying to figure out a way around that obstacle to the
controlled-substance prescriptions list, he said.
Bettie Blanchard, a woman from Dare County whose adult son is
recovering from addiction to prescription drugs, said doctors should be
required to consult the list when prescribing controlled substances.
She also wants doctors to get more education on prescribing
narcotics. Doctors should be required to tell patients that the medicine
they are being prescribed can be addictive, she said.
William Bronson, who works in a drug control unit at DHHS
presented what could be a compromise to the sheriffs' request - allowing
local drug investigators to request information related to ongoing
investigations, but not let them go in to the computer records