Reading the Labels

The new rule that gives law enforcement a look inside your medicine cabinet.

Here's an exercise: Make a list of the people who you think should know what prescription drugs you take. Are cops on that list? How about Medicaid service distributors or worker's-compensation auditors?

No? Well, too bad. They'll soon get to see your records anyway.

The Washington State Department of Health announced last week that it will soon begin a prescription-drug monitoring program that lets "health-care providers, patients, law enforcement, and others" monitor records of drugs that have been prescribed to people.

Who are those "others"? The list provided by the DOH is long, but can be summed up as anyone whose check gets cut in Olympia.

The reason for the program is apparently so law-enforcement officers and health professionals can track and stop prescription-drug abuse. Chris Baumgartner, DOH's director of the Prescription Drug Monitoring program, insists that the program will simply make patients safer. "We see this as a patient safety tool," he tells Seattle Weekly. "It's not about turning pharmacists into police, but helping them keep patients safe. It gives them more info to make better medical decisions."

But according to Robert Zielke, an attorney who represents pharmacists, the law is just another way for the government to peer into the lives of citizens. Furthermore, he says, it will be hell on the pharmacists tasked with "policing" drug records. "It's a few patients who are bad apples that are causing everyone's data to go into this databank," says Zielke. "The pharmacists will do more work with no compensation for it, and will have to pass that cost along the way. It also opens them up to more liability. The government is prying into patients' lives for a limited benefit."

 
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