Friday, April 20, 2007

A Secret Government Database?

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:
http://www.abcnews.go.com/US/print?id=3048108

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.

2 comments:

Kelly Hills said...

The BoingBoing commentary says that,
The "federal drugs database" mentioned in your recent post about the VA tech shootings seems to be somewhat flawed; the funding is for states to adopt registries reporting schedules II-V controlled substances (spam-email things like ritalin, valium, xanax, adderall, vicodin, and oxycontin) but the most commonly prescribed antidepressants like prozac, lexapro, zoloft, effexor, etc are schedule six and thus not considered controlled substances. My day job is working in a pharmacy in Michigan, and we do not report schedule VI to any state or federal database. Chances are if Cho was on an antidepressant the record would not be in a national database. His pharmacy and his prescription insurance company will know, however.

Ben said...

I wrote to ABC News, and here's the answer I received:

From : ABCNews Support
Sent : Tuesday, April 24, 2007 2:36 PM
To : Ben Hansen
Subject : Federal Database of Prescription Drug Users?


Hello Ben,

Thank you for contacting us.

Unfortunately we are unable to answer your question. We do read each correspondence and any comments or suggestions are forwarded to the appropriate department.

The best way to find what you're looking for is to make liberal use of the various search engines available.

Thanks for logging on to ABCNews.com.

Regards,

Dustin
ABCNews.com
http://abcnews.go.com/

Original Message From Ben Hansen Follows:
-------------------------

http://www.abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=3048108
Killer's Note: 'You Caused Me to Do This'
April 17, 2007

NED POTTER, DAVID SCHOETZ, RICHARD ESPOSITO, PIERRE THOMAS and the
staff of ABC News write:

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.


A "federal database" of prescription medication use in "the
government's files"???

What is ABC News talking about? Can you verify this? Thank you!

Ben Hansen
Bonkers Institute for Nearly Genuine Research
bonkersinstitute.org