One of the key issues facing lawmakers before adjournment involves access to the state’s prescription drug database by law enforcement officials. The House is insisting that the police get a warrant from a judge before using the database but the Senate is arguing that the warrant isn’t needed.
The House and Senate both agree that the state faces a serious and growing problem of prescription drug abuse but they differ on a key approach to deal with this issue.
Bennington Senator Dick Sears is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee. He wants to give a small group of special drug investigators access to the database to see if individuals are falsifying prescriptions or getting their prescriptions filled by a large number of doctors in order to sell the drugs on the street.
Sears says giving these investigators access to the database will make their job much easier.
"It’s just helping the law enforcement connect the dots, which they can already do under current Vermont law," Sears said. "Right now they aren’t able to access any of that information and have to go to each individual pharmacy in the area there may be up to 10, 12 pharmacies and an equal number of providers."
And Sears says there have to be credible allegations before the police can search the database.
"It all hinges on a tip from a health care provider or a pharmacy," he said. "It isn’t just a fishing expedition. So it starts with a tip from either the pharmacy or health care provider which is how they begin the investigation today."
Hinesburg Rep. Bill Lippert is the chairman of the House Judiciary committee. He thinks there’s a key principle at stake in this debate.
"I think it’s particularly a concern for individuals who understand that their health care records are private, they are privileged and they should not be accessed absent a warrant for law enforcement investigative purposes."
Lippert is worried that the Senate bill establishes a dangerous precedent. "We should all be concerned about the possibility of what some might call mission creep in the process of establishing health care data bases which then subsequently are modified and become used for law enforcement purposes."
A House Senate conference committee will now try to find a compromise on this issue in the remaining days of the session.