Friend and colleague Roy Poses of the Healthcare Renewal Blog asked this question on an email listserve and gave my permission to re-post it:
One of our loyal list members alerted me to an aside in an ABC news story about the Virginia Tech mass murder:
The aside was, "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." [emphasis added]
This seems to suggest that there is the US government has a comprehensive database of prescriptions for individual patients, indexed by the patients, not anonymized. I had never heard of such a database, which, if it exists, would seem to pose major privacy and civil liberty concerns.
(This should not be confused with the databases known to be kept of prescriptions written, indexed by prescribers, but without identifying patient data. These have raised concerns, especially since their main use is by drug marketers, but they are not supposed to include any patient level data.)
The blogsphere has picked this up, here: http://americablog.blogspot.com/2007/04/why-does-bush-administration-have-list.html, and see claims here: http://americablog.blogspot.com/2007/04/bush-administration-is-prying-into-your.html that the database was created due to a 2005 law.
And I just found this on Salon.com:
http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2007/04/18/surveillance/ seemingly in confirmation....
Of course, this part of the ABC could be erroneous, or a misinterpretation of some sort, i.e., maybe it was actually a DEA database of people convicted of drug offenses? But if it's not an error or misinterpretation, it surely raises many issues.
Does anybody know anything more about a broad government patient-level database that includes prescription information?
It would appear that this bears further investigation.