North Carolina Bill Would Make Prescription Records Available to Police Without a Warrant

America’s opioid epidemic is a grave public health issue, one that experts and a growing national consensus say we need to approach with solutions based in science and treatment. Unfortunately, some lawmakers haven’t gotten the memo and want to continue with the failed and inhumane strategies of the past: harsher penalties, overcriminalization, and the erosion of people’s rights.

The latest example comes from North Carolina. A new proposal ostensibly aimed at combatting the opioid crisis would give local law enforcement sweeping, unprecedented power to look through a person’s entire history of prescription drug use if they are under investigation for any drug crime, even possessing a tiny amount of any controlled substance. 

Like in most states, in North Carolina people’s prescription records are stored in two places: at the pharmacy itself and in the state’s Controlled Substance Reporting System, a secure database that tracks controlled substance prescriptions in order to give doctors better information about their patients’ needs. State law currently imposes restrictions on law enforcement access to both of these sources in order to safeguard patients’ private medical information against unjustified search. 

Sponsors of the North Carolina bill say unfettered access to the database will help law enforcement “in their efforts to investigate and prosecute individuals who obtain legal prescription medication by illegal means, as well as those who distribute illicit medication and illegal opioids.” But this bill, the first of its kind in the nation, is much broader in scope. 

First, it erodes civil liberties by eliminating the requirement for law enforcement to obtain a court order before searching someone’s prescription records in the database, a crucial protection for our constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures. In fact, the ACLU has gone to court to argue that the Fourth Amendment requires police to get a search warrant based on probable cause before accessing prescription database records. 

Second, it opens up a person’s entire history of prescription records at the pharmacy after a single drug charge. Arrested on suspicion of possessing a little marijuana? Under the North Carolina bill, law enforcement could look at your entire pharmaceutical history, without any warrant or court order. Do you use birth control? Take medication to treat depression or anxiety? Ever taken antibiotics to treat a sexually transmitted disease? North Carolina law enforcement would get to know all that and more. 

Giving law enforcement officers the power to snoop around people’s medicine cabinets without any oversight will do little to combat the opioid epidemic. Rather, it would violate the rights of innocent people and further stigmatize people with substance abuse issues, making it harder for them to receive proper treatment. That’s why it’s been opposed by groups like the North Carolina Substance Use Disorder Federation and Addiction Professionals of North Carolina, which called the bill a “backwards culture shift away from treating substance use disorder as a disease and toward criminalizing illness.” 

As currently devised, the state’s Controlled Substance Reporting System allows pharmacists and doctors to see what prescriptions a patient has already been given in order to prevent over-prescription. The program was envisioned as a way to identify individuals with substance use disorders and refer them to treatment. And law enforcement can already access that database with a court order. 

Expanding law enforcement’s access to pharmacy records while eroding privacy protections, however, could open the entire system to abuse. We know this from experiences in other states. 

In 1996, Utah began tracking controlled substance prescriptions in the Utah Controlled Substance Database. Although the program was intended to help prevent drug abuse, it was discovered in 2014 that a Utah detective used the database to access the prescription records of all 480 employees in Utah’s largest fire agency without judicial oversight and improperly charged at least two employees with crimes they did not commit based on misinterpretation of their prescription histories.

In response, Utah’s legislature amended the law in 2015, requiring law enforcement officers to obtain a probable cause warrant from a court before they can gain access to the database. Many other states now require a warrant or court order based on probable cause in order for law enforcement to access prescription drug information.

When devising strategies to address the opioid crisis, lawmakers should focus on public health solutions endorsed by the medical and treatment communities. Giving law enforcement officers more power to violate people’s rights and trample on our cherished civil liberties is never the answer.

View comments (31)
Read the Terms of Use


So, are you, the ACLU, finally going to do something to get involved and help legitimate chronic pain patients from the horrendous torture they are enduring in the name of the so called, "Opioid Crisis?" Everyone wants a piece of the pie (monies available thru feds for this battle); this is just another way to tap into those monies and easy way for LE to ruin lives!


'Custody' includes detainment, which can include traffic offenses. I see a possibility of police running a tag number, then checking that registration for 'drug history', then claiming they were weaving, or some other fictional infraction, to search the car. This is a problem.


God help us all. Chronic pain patients are already treated like criminals --or worse than criminals. There's far more sympathy & help for heroin addicts than for legitimate pain patients who've never broken a law, gotten high, or abused their meds --yet they have to go through incredible hoops of contracts, testing, random pill counts, pharmacy contracts, etc, and MUCH abuse & condemnation for being so weak as to seek relief from debilitating, life-destroying pain. And they are already losing the medications that provide some relief for this life-destroying pain and give them some quality of life... because of other people who abuse medications and (the overwhelming number of ODs) take ILLEGAL drugs. And now these cretins want to further torture these people by illegally invading their private medical records?? How can the people who put forth insanities like this look themselves in the mirror?


Vampires dont see themselves in the mirror, anyway. =/
I too have chronic pain, from a collection of horrid health issues that have hit me one after the next, since i was about 16yrs old. I am now 39, and have had a very trying life... couldn't finish school, either, because of a very severe case of Chroans disease, which by itself has almost killed me multiple times. Add in the other health problems, and you have pain which has destroyed my life... sometimes spending as much as 3 straight years bedridden from pain.
I have been on pain meds for 20+ years, at varying doses, while trying a ton of other treatments which never really helped. I had finally found a medicine and dose which worked fairly well, and gave me somewhat of a life... a dose i stayed on for 12yrs, getting better a little bit at a time, until i had reached a point where i was 165lbs, and was starting to have a better life.
Then a doctor i had not met before decided he would see me one day, at my pain specialist group- a place i had been going for over 2yrs at this point- and everything started going to hell. I had asked if i could try and take less of my pain med, and see if i could get to a lower dosage, which still helped enough, since i was doing well. He looked at me and laughed, and said "if you have them, you'll take them"... i felt sick inside, i was so insulted by this. So, he says he will reduce my dose, and see how it goes, which i was fine with, as i wanted this anyway, as i had told him.
So all seemed good, and i had no real issue with the decrease over the next month, so we continued to reduce it each visit, until i was down about 1/5th from what i had been. When i reached this point, the pain had become too much to bear again... so i asked that we stop the reductions. I was told no, that we were not down to where he was comfortable with my dose yet. This was very confusing, but became less so when his pushing for new experimental treatments became a bit obnoxious.
Anyway, long story short, he basically made me feel like i had to try new invasive and unreliable procedures, or else continue to suffer, so i did my research on his recommendation, and it was not something that was smart in my case. I even asked my gastroenterologist, and my surgeon, both of which said it was not a good idea in my case. So i said no to the new treatment... and he continued to reduce my dosage. He and his colleagues watched me wither away, from 165lbs and happy, in good shape and getting out, to 112lbs, miserable, skin and bones, and stuck in my room for over a year. See, in my case, opioid pain medication not only helps for the horrible pain i suffer through, what with Chroans, fibromyalgia, arthritis, migraines, muscle pain, chest and back pain, and more, but it also slows my digestion, allowing me to absorb what i eat more like a normal person... otherwise everything passes right through me, and i get no benefit from eating it. I lost so much weight, and had so little of what i needed, vitamin and nutrient-wise, that i developed a new painful problem, a severe case of neuropathy which threatened to shut down my organs, and was so bad i was unable to walk, or even crawl. I ended up hospitalized for a week to have what i needed pumped back in via IV... and boy is potassium painful to have given through IV. =/
They never cared about any of this, and even continued in the same direction. So, as i said i would shorten this~ in the end, i went through hell to find a new pain doctor, but after leaving the other place, going though withdrawal that i had to go to a methadone clinic to stop, i finally found one a new doctor. This doctor has expertise which makes him perfect for me, i believe. So he has since worked me back to the dose i was on for 12 yrs before being cut back, and now i am back to 160lbs, getting out of my room, trying to have somewhat of a life again, and thinking of the future in ways other than with unending fear and dread. Now i have to treat the neuropathy as well, of course, and having it has made it next to impossible to draw as i did before. Of course, i know it will take a while to get back to being as well and happy as i was prior to the betrayal i suffered from doctors, but i at least have it to look ahead towards... though all this has made my panic attacks and anxiety return... i had it all under control before, now i have to take meds to treat it again. Especially when i am at a doctor or hospital, at which times i feel like my heart is going to implode, and i can barely stand it.
My goal is to get back to being on only two meds, my Chroans treatment, remicaid (once every 6 weeks), and my pain med. That is all i was on when things were going so well... now i am on 8 meds, some of which are OTC. So infuriating, and frustrating, knowing this was done to me, and many others, all because of those who chose to do the wrong thing, and not be careful, and take care of themselves.
So now i do my best to get better day by day, and i try and use my experience and knowledge to help others who are going through this right now. Trying to give them hope that their pain will soon be treated again, and not ignored... that they wont be treated so badly anymore... and in some cases, trying to convince them not to end thier lives, while knowing full well i cannot blame them, even if i would never do it myself, because of my faith, and because i feel it is a selfish thing to do to those around you.
Finally, i'll end my rant... but if there is anyone out there who reads this, ACLU or someone else, who can do anything to help those being literally tortured to death right now for no valid reason, please, PLEASE, do it. Even if all you can do is to cut someone in pain a little slack, or maybe show them you care... please, be someone that one of these depressed, tormented, and ignored people can look to for a smile, and maybe a hug... help give them hope, and whatever you do, please, please, don't make life any harder for them. So many are killing themselves already, due to lack of proper treatment of their pain, it is such a horrid thing. Find out, however you can, how to help as much as you can, whether a little or a lot... we, chronic pain suffers, truly need it right now.
Thank you for reading, sorry it was a bit long.


Under no circumstance allow this bill to be passed!!!! We have already, albeit quietly , have eroded the 4th amendment in this state, but this will do nothing to stop the addiction except allow even MORE militarization of the police.....


Um, HIPPA violation?


This is crazy and it is a HIP violation how ever the government is the one who made and inforced HIPA as they see fit. This law if I acted let's police come in your residence without a warrant is another invasion of privacy. It won't be long until all rights are stripped one by one then what does that make our country, certainly not a free country. More like communism to me and what the F have I been reading about soldiers guarding opiate fields in Afganistan? Read it several places by ex military that states they were forced to guard the fields. Now what are they going to do with opiates if true patients don't get meds, they are going to be on our streets in illegal use. More money for drug cartels that our government make money off if and protect. Times in our country are getting pretty bad


It’s already happening - I believe the last I read, 30 states allowed LEO to access the PDMP without warrants - just unfettered access. Please check all states - as this is more the norm than the exception!

Jasmin days

Are you kidding me? Find something really important to fix. Like homelessness, people starving to death, etc.


Law enforcement has access now in NC if you are on Medicare. I think it's a good idea. This could help save lives if they need to know what someone may be overdosing on.


Stay Informed