Increasing Abuse Means Proposed Crackdown on Prescription Drugs

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Sometimes people forget that DUI charges can result from driving under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxicating substance, including many drugs. That's why some cough medicines have a label warning you not to operate heavy machinery after ingesting them.

And it's no wonder driving under the influence of drugs is a crime - any kind of impaired judgment can be fatal when combined with something as powerful as most vehicles.

But driving after taking drugs isn't the only potentially deadly drug scenario: in 2007, some states saw fatal drug overdose statistics rise. Vermont, one such state, reportedly added a twist to those statistics-30% of drug overdoses that resulted in deaths involved prescription drugs.

The Burlington Free Press reports that Vermont law enforcement officials have outlined plans to combat the unfortunate death statistics from 2007. But it seems some pharmacists and civil rights activists are questioning the legality of the proposed measures.

Reports indicate that the head of the Vermont State Police Department plans to meet with the state's Pharmacists Association to go over some problems and potential solutions of prescription drug abuse.

According to reports, police have requested that pharmacists help them identify prescription fraud and prevent overdose deaths by providing the police department with complete lists of everyone who fills prescriptions for certain narcotic drugs.

The reason behind this request is that research has shown that common forms of prescription fraud include "pharmacy shopping," or filling prescriptions at multiple pharmacies; "doctor shopping," or having more than one physician write a prescription for the same medicine; stealing prescription drugs and stealing prescription pads.

But, as a spokesperson from the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has pointed out, that might violate the terms of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which was passed in 1996.

The terms of HIPAA are outlined on the Health & Human Services website. One section explicitly prohibits parties from using personal health care information for purposes that have nothing to do with health services. Law enforcement, it seems, would be among the prohibited purposes.

Besides that restriction, HIPAA states that patients must explicitly authorize the release of their health care documents to any agency that is not related to the health care industry. Industries like, say, law enforcement.

Critics of the proposed measures evidently believe that police should be required to obtain warrants for searching pharmacists' information, as they would for any other material.

The problem of prescription drug abuse is not limited to Vermont-other areas of the country are grappling with similar issues, and the Topeka Capital-Journal has reported that lawmakers in Kansas are kicking around legislation similar to that in Vermont. Many remained concerned that the methods currently proposed, though, could lead to haphazard "witch hunts" or "fishing expeditions."


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