The state should limit law-enforcement agents’ ability to go on “fishing expeditions” with Florida’s prescription drug database, including requiring them to get a search warrant to access the database, an ACLU lobbyist told health officials Monday.
ACLU lobbyist Pamela Burch Fort was the only person to testify at a rule-making workshop called by the state Department of Health in response to the leaking of 3,300 patients’ prescription drug information in a Volusia County drug sting to lawyers representing defendants in the case.
The security breach prompted Michael Lambert, a Daytona Beach lawyer whose prescription-drug history was among thousands of others’ handed out by a prosecutor and who is among the accused, to challenge the constitutionality of the database in court.
Lambert says the database is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy and violates protections against searches and seizures by the government.
Burch Fort recommended requiring a search warrant to access the database but said that would require a new law by the Legislature and not just a rule change by the health department.
Her other suggestions included:
— Notifying individuals such as Lambert whose names have been released to third parties but who are not under investigation.
— Limiting law-enforcement’s ability to query the database by restricting searches like a “wildcard search” that now allows them either to enter partial names or conduct a search for a name that sounds like the subject’s name.
—Redacting the names of anyone whose drug history shows up in a search but who is not part of an active investigation.
The ACLU of Florida has asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the release of the names.
Department of Health officials did not take questions from reporters following the meeting.
But Lorrie Abramowitz, an investigator with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, said a warrant should not be required to access the database because they aren’t needed either to access pharmacists’ or doctors’ prescription drug records.
Abramowitz said the database has dramatically reduced the number of “doctor shoppers.”
“It absolutely has been a huge asset,” Abramowitz said. “It’s working.”