Spotlight Report

The Pill Police: North Carolina law enforcement has access to private health records

posted on in City & County Government, Health Care & Human Services, Law & Regulation, Spending & Taxes
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Key facts:

  • There has been significant public attention and concern regarding a proposal by the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association that would allow sheriffs to have access to patients’ prescription information for painkillers and controlled substances.
  • The bigger issue is that the state already collects this information and law enforcement, specifically the State Bureau of Investigation, already has access to it.
  • The drugs tracked under the state law include medicines such as painkillers used by cancer patients as well as medications used in the treatment of mental health. Even children did not escape the excessive scope of the law.For example, if a child is prescribed Ritalin, his personal information is included in the system.
  • The state is taking a shotgun approach to address the problem of prescription drug abuse and misuse. There are more than 53 million prescriptions in the state database, yet the state has identified patterns of abuse, based on an informal estimate, in 50-60 situations since 2007. To take such intrusive action to find a small number of “abuses” is a gross violation of privacy rights.
  • The public should not be fearful of engaging in legal activities. Furthermore, the public should not have to worry about seeking necessary medical treatment at the expense of giving away sensitive personal information to the state. A trade-off between relieving pain and protecting personal privacy is a choice the public should never have to make.
  • North Carolina should eliminate the database. The entire database system is an overreaction. The incredible intrusion into the lives of citizens greatly outweighs the limited benefit, if any, that exists from such a database.
  • Under the current statute, an individual who improperly uses the health data is subject only to civil penalties and liability, which is completely inappropriate given how intrusive a violation it would be for an individual to improperly disclose someone else’s health records. As HHS recommended to the legislature’s Joint Legislative Health Care Oversight Committee, improper use should be made a felony.


Spotlight 400 The Pill Police: North Carolina law enforcement has access to private health records

Daren Bakst is Senior Research Fellow in Agricultural Policy at the Heritage Foundation. In this position, Bakst studies and writes about agricultural and environmental policy and property rights, among other issues.  He has done extensive work on the farm bill… ...

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