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Court hears oral arguments in Oregon prescription drug monitoring database case



November 23, 2016
Area(s) of Interest: CURES Drug Prescribing/Dispensing 

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments earlier this month in a patient privacy case involving law enforcement access to Oregon’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). The California Medical Association (CMA) joined the American Medical Association and other western state medical associations in 2015 to file an amicus brief with the appeals court challenging the authority of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to obtain patients' private prescription records without a court order.

In this case, the DEA sought patient-specific information from Oregon’s PDMP through the use of a federal administrative subpoena, which does not involve judicial review or a showing of probable cause. The Oregon PDMP, however, refused to comply with the DEA’s subpoena on the ground that doing so would violate Oregon state law, which requires a court order based on probable cause before patient data in the PDMP can be disclosed to any federal, state or local law enforcement agency.

A coalition of plaintiffs that include Oregon’s PDMP, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), patients and physicians filed a lawsuit in federal court against the DEA challenging the use of administrative subpoenas to access PDMP information. The plaintiffs argued that information in the PDMP is protected under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and that the DEA must show probable cause and obtain a warrant prior to accessing such information.

The federal trial court sided with the State of Oregon and concluded that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the DEA from issuing administrative subpoenas for the database records. The court held that patients have an expectation of privacy in their prescription information contained in the PDMP stating that it “is difficult to conceive of information that is more private or more deserving of Fourth Amendment protections.” The DEA appealed this ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes California.

The brief filed by the medical associations urges the court to recognize the profound interests that this case places at issue in the areas of patient privacy and the integrity of the patient-physician relationship. The protection of patient privacy “is essential for a patient-physician relationship built on trust … so that patients will seek care and so that doctors may provide the most efficacious health care for the patient’s benefit,” the brief states. It advocates for the strongest possible protections for patient prescription data collected by state prescription drug monitoring programs so that data is used by doctors and pharmacists for responsible treatment and prescription practices and to protect public health and safety, not for the enhancement of federal law enforcement without stringent legal safeguards.

Click here to read the medical associations’ brief. A decision from the Ninth Circuit is expected in early 2017.

Contact: CMA legal information line, (800) 786-4262 or legalinfo@cmadocs.org.

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