Will Access to Database Prevent Drug Overdoses or Violate Privacy?
In North Carolina, sheriffs are requesting access to state computer records that would identify people with access to certain drugs – primarily painkillers and other controlled substances. The state offers the database to help doctors identify prescription abusers, but those who are appropriately under a doctor’s care view the move as a violation of patient privacy.
Database Provides Information on 50 Million Prescriptions for Pain Killers
The News and Observer of Raleigh NC say that the state sheriff’s association proposed the idea of access to the computer database to a legislative health care committee on Tuesday. The group asserts that more people in NC counties die of accidental overdoses than from homicides. “We can better go after those who are abusing the system,” said Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter.
Across the nation, a recent government survey has found a 400% increase in the number of people admitted to treatment for abusing prescription pain medicine. According to the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), nearly 30% of the state’s residents have received at least one prescription for a controlled substance in the first six months of 2010.
The database, which was started in 2007, estimates that more than 375 million prescriptions have been filled since January 1, 2010. However, only 20% of the state’s doctors and 10% of pharmacies have registered to use the program. Many chain pharmacies, for example, use closed systems so that they will not be vulnerable to computer viruses.
On the other side of the debate are patient privacy advocates. The ACLU has already opposed a similar bill because of concerns about privacy, says lobbyist Sarah Preston. The organization is likely to object to the new proposal as well.
"I don't feel that I should have to sign away my privacy rights just because I take an opioid under doctor's care," said Candy Pitcher of Cary, who volunteers for the nonprofit American Pain Foundation.
"The sheriff's association isn't concerned with someone who comes to pharmacies like this one and has a need for painkillers," counters Sam Page, Rockingham County sheriff. "They want to know who is doctor shopping, obtaining meds illegally and abusing the powerful prescription drugs."
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 is a complex set of rules that cover patient privacy and the use of information technology in regards to medical records. The Office for Civil Rights enforces the HIPAA Privacy Rule (which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information) and the HIPAA Security Rule (which sets national standards for the security of electronic protected health information).
Eddie Caldwell, lobbyist for the NC Sheriff’s Association, hopes there is a middle ground that can be found to assist sheriffs in protecting the public from illegal drug abusers while also protecting the legitimate person from privacy violations.