Courts & Crime

Should police get more access to prescription drug records?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper supports expanding access to state computer records identifying people with prescriptions for certain drugs.

During a speech Wednesday in Charlotte, Cooper called prescription-drug abuse the biggest drug threat today. He made his remarks at a meeting with law enforcement leaders from North Carolina and 25 other states to discuss better ways to fight illegal drugs.

He said more young people are abusing prescription medications than any other drug except marijuana.

Deaths in North Carolina associated with prescription-drug abuse rose from 798 in 2008 to 826 in 2009, he said.

"That tells us we have a problem and we need to deal with it," he said.

The possibility of granting more access to the prescription drug records has generated some recent controversy over privacy.

The state sheriff's association called for access to the electronic records earlier this month at a legislative health care committee meeting.

Groups such as the ACLU and the American Pain Foundation said law enforcement shouldn't be poking around people's medicine cabinets.

The ACLU opposed a bill in 2007 that would have opened the list to law enforcement officials. The organization would probably object to the new proposal, officials said.

Cooper said 20 State Bureau of Investigation agents currently have access to prescription-drug records. He said he could support opening the system to more law enforcement officials, such as designated sheriff's deputies or police.

"Obviously there needs to be balance with privacy. This is very private information about people's prescription drugs," he said. "On the other hand, we know the deaths that these drugs can cause and the abuse of them. And being able to have a system in place that can show us who is abusing prescription drugs and who is getting them illegally can be helpful."

Local sheriffs said that more people in their counties die of accidental overdoses than from homicides.

The state started collecting the information in 2007 to help doctors identify patients who go from doctor to doctor looking for prescription drugs they may not need, and to keep pharmacists from supplying patients with too many pills.

Nearly 30 percent of state residents received at least one prescription for a controlled substance, anything from Ambien to OxyContin, in the first six months of this year, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Cooper said he's also been meeting with doctors with the N.C. Medical Society, asking them to check the state's prescription-drug data base when they suspect a patient may be doctor shopping or trying to collect drugs to abuse or sell.

Read the full story at
Related stories from McClatchy DC