A state senator sponsoring a bill to tighten police access to Florida’s prescription drug database said he disagrees with a judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit challenging investigators’ access to the information.But local sheriffs said the senator’s bill would roll back gains made against prescription drug abuse since the database went into effect, and could render it useless.State Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, is joining database critics which include the local attorney who filed the suit, Michael Lambert, in saying citizens need more protection from privacy breaches. Bean is sponsoring Senate Bill 862, which would require that law enforcement officers to get a court order for direct access to information in the database.“We have to strike the balance,” Bean said, “the balance of law enforcement but also the balance of the public’s right to privacy. The government already monitors our phone calls, they read our email. Does the government have to be in our medicine cabinets, too? I don’t think they do.”Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson said Bean’s bill is an overreaction.“We got one case in the state of Florida in a year or two years whatever it is and they want to take and do massive changes over that,” Johnson said. “This is a solution looking for a problem.”Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre agreed.“Our pills in our community have gone down dramatically,” Manfre said. “I don’t understand what issues (Bean) is trying to resolve. I understand privacy issues but the only time law enforcement looks at this database is when there is a potential crime. I don’t see any intrusion into anyone’s private life.”.
Lambert certainly did. The criminal defense attorney’s prescription drug records were among the 3,300 swept up as part of an investigation in which only half a dozen people were charged with crimes. Prosecutors and police have no right to Lambert’s prescription drug records or those of anyone else not under investigation for a crime, said Lambert’s attorney, John Tanner.“It exposes virtually every innocent citizen in the state of Florida that has prescriptions filled to the real possibility that their personal information and the drugs being prescribed to them are being placed in the hands — not only of law enforcement and the State Attorney’s office and their staff — but in the hands of people charged with serious criminal misconduct,” Tanner said in a phone interview.Fourth Circuit Judge Waddell A. Wallace dismissed Lambert’s lawsuit and ruled that it did not violate people’s right to unreasonable searches and seizures. The judge also wrote that a person’s expectation of privacy regarding their prescription records should be reduced because the Legislature requires copies of the records be maintained.Bean said he hopes to enact changes this legislative session to protect people’s prescription records.“We want to go after bad guys but we also want to protect privacy, so we are looking for that balance, Bean said.The bill would also require the Department of Health contribute money for the database.The Florida Sheriff’s Association agrees with the judge’s decision, according to a statement from its legislative chair, Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford.“We support the court’s conclusion that the (Prescription Drug Monitoring Program) is a constitutional program and does not violate individual’s privacy,” Rutherford said in the statement. “We respect individual’s privacy rights but we also know that the use of the PDMP has had significant positive impacts on reducing prescription overdose deaths and doctor shopping in Florida and is an important tool in fighting crime.”The program has helped cut drug abuse, the statement said.
“Since 2011 we have seen a 52% decline in oxycodone deaths and a 23% decline in hydrocodone and prescription drug deaths; evidence that this program as well as other laws put into place are working,” the statement reads.The Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi also agrees with the judge’s decision.“We support the protocol currently in place that allows law enforcement the timely access they need to identify and stop prescription drug abuse,” wrote press secretary Whitney Ray.Meanwhile, Lambert’s attorney Tanner pointed to a decision in Oregon in which a federal judge ruled in February that drug enforcement agents must get a warrant before getting information from Oregon’s Prescription Drug Database.Tanner said prescription drugs reveal information about a person’s health, whether the drug is an anti-depressant, anti-anxiety or a drug designed to treat alcoholism.“The prescription tells the story of what the person’s illness or malady is and under Florida law the state attorney is required to turn over all that information of innocent people to criminal defense attorneys and the criminal defendants,” Tanner said