(TNS) -- PROVIDENCE — More than 20 organizations, including the Rhode Island Medical Society, have launched a public campaign to persuade Gov. Gina Raimondo to veto legislation to allow warrantless searches of otherwise confidential information on the state's electronic prescription database.
Raimondo has not stated publicly what she intends to do with the legislation, which was introduced in the House by Rep. Joseph McNamara, D-Warwick; and in the Senate by Sen. William Conley, D-East Providence. The governor has until Wednesday to sign, veto or allow the legislation to become law without her signature.
The proposed law would give state and federal investigators access to the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), which contains information on every prescription for a controlled substance dispensed by Rhode Island pharmacies — from highly addictive prescription opioids such as Vicodin and OxyContin, to stimulants such as Adderall, anti-anxiety drugs, common painkillers and cough suppressants with codeine.
The database allows health officials to track prescribing patterns as a way to identify possible over-prescribing and abuse.
"We are concerned that these bills, if signed into law, may drive patients 'underground' and away from the care that they need and have the unintended effect of increasing the number of overdoses,'' Rhode Island Medical Society President Sarah J. Fessler wrote the governor.
"Our Department of Health already has the data and the authority to detect potential prescription drug diversion," Fessler said. "Judicial review should remain the standard by which police gain access to such sensitive information."
Echoed Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island: "This bill strikes at the heart of doctor-patient confidentiality and undermines the public's faith in our state Department of Health to be a protector of the deeply private information kept in its care.
"If police wanted to search the medicine cabinet in your home, they would need a warrant. The fact that the medicine cabinet is stored electronically shouldn't change that equation. In fact, it's worse. Unlike the PDMP, your actual medicine cabinet contains only the medicines you are using now, not an entire history of your prescription use. We urge the governor to veto this dangerous bill."
The legislation was championed in the General Assembly by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.
On Monday afternoon, Kilmartin responded to the criticism of the legislation
"The bill does not, as the Rhode Island Medical Society, ACLU and others would like you to believe, give law enforcement unfettered access to the PDMP," Kilmartin said in a statement issued by his office. "The bill does not and would not allow law enforcement to 'rummage through these records' as the medical society and other has falsely claimed. Police are not going to rummage through your medicine cabinet. Police are not going to have access to your medical records.
"The scare tactics by the medical society and others are disingenuous and are outright lies. Maybe the question we should be asking is, 'What are the doctors trying to hide?' Doctors helped to create the opioid problem; now they need to be part of the solution and support this bill.
"My office worked for months with the Department of Health, our federal partners, and the governor's own legislative staff to draft a bill that would restrict access to the PDMP while giving law enforcement a meaningful tool to help fight this crisis."
The bill would allow certain law enforcement officials to request information in the database from a state health department employee, rather than directly accessing the database. The official would have to present credentials and a case number of the investigation.
The access would apply to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and the Medicaid Fraud and Patient Abuse Unit in the state attorney general's office.
Thirty states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, have similar laws to give law enforcement access to their state prescription databases for criminal investigations without a search warrant, according to Kilmartin's office.
©2017 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.