Drug Enforcement Administration agents are being accused of accessing personal medical files without a warrant and of impersonating medical board officials to get the records.
The DEA wants to crack down on doctors who run “pill mills” and who engage in prescription drug abuse but has been accused of illegally and unconstitutionally obtaining records, including patients’ records.
It’s a worthy cause, and not having to obtain a judicial warrant makes their job easier but it violates the rights of patients.
The case is in the 5th and 9th Circuit appeals courts after conflicting rulings by lower courts.
The DEA has been accessing medical files and patients medical histories with administrative subpoenas that don’t require a judge’s signature or probable cause.
Doctors say they have been “tricked” into handing over documents by the agency showing up with state medical board officials and not identifying themselves, leading the staff to believe they are with the board.
Mari Robinson, executive director of the Texas Medical Board, did not deny in a 2014 congressional hearing that the DEA did this on numerous occasions. She said the board often conducts joint investigations with the DEA, and “what they [DEA] do is up to them.”
Really? The medical board has no obligation to conduct themselves in an open and honest manner?
The DEA denies it all.
The case that is questioning the practice is U.S. v. Abbas T. Zadeh, a Texas doctor who refused to hand over the records of 35 of his patients when the DEA demanded them through an administrative subpoena in 2013.
The doctor who was 90 years of age died this month but told his lawyer not to give in.
If patients can have their records seized without probably cause, it could have a chilling effect on patients. Some might stop seeking help.
The DEA claims they don’t need probable cause and only obtain the records relevant to the case. They promise to not use the records inappropriately.
In one request, according to The Oregonian, the DEA asked for a year’s worth of records for all controlled substances prescribed by two unidentified doctors. In another, according to court documents, the state of Oregon was forced to comply with a subpoena forcing the PDMP to turn over all prescriptions written by one particular doctor over the course of seven months.
The government has appealed the judge’s ruling and that case is now pending before the 9th Circuit.
The ACLU which is fighting the case said they aren’t trying to shut the government out, they simply want them to go to a judge first.