Abuse of the Federal Prescription Database Law

Bumped and Updated with new information, scroll down.

AmericaBlog picks up on this ABC News report on the Virginia Tech shooter that says there may have been a gap in the federal database regarding his medications:

Some news accounts have suggested that Cho had a history of antidepressant use, but senior federal officials tell ABC News that they can find no record of such medication in the government's files. This does not completely rule out prescription drug use, including samples from a physician, drugs obtained through illegal Internet sources, or a gap in the federal database, but the sources say theirs is a reasonably complete search.

John asks, what database? Does the Government keep a list of all of our prescriptions?

The answer is yes. I reported on it in 2005 when Bush signed the bill creating the electronic database:


I quoted from a news article which is no longer online:

President Bush signed into law a bill to create electronic monitoring programs to prevent the abuse of prescription drugs in all 50 states.

The new law creates a grant program for states to create databases and enhance existing ones in hopes of ending the practice of "doctor shopping" by drug abusers seeking multiple prescriptions. It would authorize $60 million for the program through fiscal 2010.

The bill, signed late Thursday at the president's Crawford, Texas, ranch, was sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican representing Kentucky's 1st District.

And there you have it. Yes, every prescription you get is logged in a federal database.

Update: Thanks to the commenter below who pointed out Glenn Greenwald's explanation of the database today.

Update: John Aravosis at AmericaBlog has more:

The federal database of your private medical information is now being used by federal law enforcement to investigate crimes that have nothing to do with prescription drug abuse. We know this because yesterday ABC News disclosed that the feds checked the database to see what prescription meds the Virginia Tech shooter might have been on. How does the mass murder of students and faculty at Virginia Tech have anything to do with prescription drug abuse? It doesn't.
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    How does that interact (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Apr 18, 2007 at 09:34:54 PM EST

    Holy smokes! (none / 0) (#2)
    by Compound F on Wed Apr 18, 2007 at 09:37:21 PM EST
    It is gratifying to hear such things and realize Larry Ellison is ridiculously wealthy.  It's like a double-shot goodness.

    Glenn Greenwald @ salon.com (none / 0) (#3)
    by sysprog on Wed Apr 18, 2007 at 09:55:45 PM EST
    Glenn Greenwald @ salon.com :
    . . . Having looked at this prescription data base law more carefully -- and I should caution that today is the first day I have really looked at it -- I really do not see any authorization for federal investigators to have accessed this information in connection with the Virginia Tech shootings.

    . . . I realize, of course, that we are not supposed to mind when our Government breaks the law when the law-breaking is for our own Good (like when The President broke the eavesdropping laws but only did so to Protect us, so it was OK). But the Congress created this data base and then placed fairly stringent protections on who could access this sensitive data and specified the circumstances under which access was permitted.

    If ABC's report is correct and federal investigators accessed this data base in order to determine if the VT shooter had obtained anti-depressants, that would appear (again, based on my limited knowledge of this statute, which might be wrong) to be illegal . . .

    Glenn Greenwald also notes, that pharmacists don't report most anti-depressant prescriptions to the federal "controlled substances" database, because most anti-depressants, aren't "controlled substances". So what database(s) is(are) involved here? What's ABC News talking about?

    Very curious.

    The old article can still be found online (none / 0) (#4)
    by roy on Wed Apr 18, 2007 at 11:28:27 PM EST
    Or at least a much larger chunk of it.  Here and here.

    (Neither source is remotely credible, but if two sources claim to be posting an AP article and excerpts match those from credible sources, I figure it's probably right)

    Nothing to get excited about (none / 0) (#5)
    by John J on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 12:06:49 AM EST
    If you read the recording act, it only covers scheduled "controlled substances," drugs that are potentially addictive.  While that includes anti-anxiety agents, like Zanax and Valium, it does NOT include any anti-depressants. The feds have always had easier access to medical records about controlled substances.  This just makes it easier to for them to get the information.

    As for the news report, it is almost certainly wrong--like too many news reports.  The reporter may not even know the difference between an anti-depressant and anxiety medication.  Quit trusting everything you read in the media.