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Courts & Lawmakers Limit Police Access to Prescription Drug Databases

Posted on in Criminal defense lawyer

For years, law enforcement has been able to access prescription drug databases to see if a person suspected of criminal activity is using any controlled substances. Defense attorneys have argued that these database inquiries by law enforcement amount to warrantless searches and violate the privacy rights of the individual.

However, there appears to be a shift in attitude of some courts, as well as lawmakers, to restrict what law enforcement can and cannot access without a warrant.

All but two states in the country, Nebraska and Missouri, have prescription drug databases for oxycodone and other strong narcotics. Seventeen of those states require police to obtain a warrant before they are able to search the databases. The other states – except Vermont – allow police to search without warrants, as long as there is an active investigation taking place. The Vermont system, however, is closed completely to law enforcement.

Oxycodone, a powerful pain narcotic, was originally developed for terminally ill patients. But over the past few years, it has become a more popular prescribed painkiller. The Center for Disease Control has classified the number of people who become addicted to oxycodone an epidemic. When they are no longer able to get the drugs legally, many turn to purchasing the pills illegally from drug dealers.

The large spike in opiate addicts has also led to an increase in crime, as many struggle to get the money to buy the drugs illegally. Police say losing the ability to access prescription drug databases would hamper their efforts to stop drug dealers who sell prescription narcotics.

Months ago,  in his decision to require federal agents to obtain a warrant before searching that state’s database, a judge in Oregon wrote while “there is not an absolute right to privacy in prescription information ... it is more than reasonable for patients to believe that law enforcement agencies will not have unfettered access to their records.”

Both Rhode Island and Pennsylvania have bills in the legislature that would require new limits for law enforcement to be able to access the database.

If you have been charged with a crime, you need to contact an experienced Cook County criminal defense attorney to defend you and to make sure your constitutional rights are protected.

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