Oxford Univ. Press: How private are your prescription records? by Leslie Francis and John Francis:
Urgent public health crises generate pressures for access to information to protect the public’s health. Identifying patients with contagious conditions and tracing their contacts may seem imperative for serious diseases such as Ebola or SARS. But pressures for information reach far more broadly than the threat of deadly contagion. Such is the situation with the opioid epidemic, at least in Utah, where a federal district court recently determined that patients have no reasonable expectation of privacy in their prescription records, which can be transferred to state agencies under state public health laws.
Patients should know that their physicians are required by law to make reports of these prescriptions to state health departments, the court said. These reports to state agencies can include abuse, various infectious diseases, possible instances of bioterrorism, tumors, abortions, birth defects—and, in most states, controlled substance prescriptions. Because patients should know about these reports, they have no Fourth Amendment expectation of privacy in them. And, so, warrantless searches by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are constitutionally permissible. The Utah court’s reasoning potentially throws into question the extent to which these reports may receive Fourth Amendment protection.