Court: California med board justified in prescription probeJuly 18, 2017 1:44am

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The state Medical Board can dig through prescription drug records without a search warrant or subpoena, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The board did not violate the privacy of patients when it searched a statewide database while investigating a Burbank doctor who was placed on probation for complaints that included excessive prescriptions, the court ruled unanimously.

The ruling, at a time of a nationwide epidemic of opioid abuse, pitted the rights of patients against the government's ability to easily investigate whether doctors are overprescribing powerful drugs.

At issue was the state's prescription monitoring program created more than 20 years ago that allows doctors to check if patients are receiving drugs from other physicians and lets regulators and law enforcement investigate doctors who may be doling out too many controlled substances.

Pharmacies are required to electronically record prescriptions of certain controlled substances, including patient names, birth dates, addresses and the doctor who prescribed them.

The court said investigators could obtain the records for discipline and policing purposes and didn't have to show good cause to access the database because that would hamper efforts to ferret out abuse.

"Requiring the board to present evidence to a judicial officer establishing good cause as part of its preliminary investigations could result in protracted legal battles that effectively derail those investigations," Justice Goodwin Liu wrote. "Delays ... would impede the board's ability to swiftly identify and stop dangerous prescribing practices."

Dr. Alwin Lewis was investigated after a patient who went to see him about headaches and fatigue had complained that he suggested she go on his "five bite diet," which eliminates breakfast and limits dieters to five bites each at lunch and dinner.

While the board ultimately found Lewis didn't provide improper care to that patient, investigators who dug through his prescribing history discovered problems with five other patients. An administrative law judge found he was unprofessional, failed to keep adequate records, and committed negligent acts.

The board adopted the judge's recommendation to put him on probation for three years.

Lewis, who is no longer on probation, said the board improperly launched a "fishing expedition" unrelated to the original complaint and the board put him "through a circus to prove a point."

"The Supreme Court, I feel, they were attempting to be overly cautious in protecting the masses," Lewis told The Associated Press. "I really believed that my principle is right that no government agency should have a right to invade an individual's rights willy-nilly with no due cause."

Lewis said he was disappointed in the ruling and wasn't sure if he would take his challenge to the federal court system.

Last month, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in on a related issue when it said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration does not need a court order to subpoena Oregon's prescription drug database.

The court said the state of Oregon, which had tried to prevent the agency from accessing its database because state law requires police to get court orders, could challenge individual warrantless subpoenas in court because of privacy issues.

The ruling did not resolve whether DEA's administrative subpoenas violate constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

The California Supreme Court noted that Lewis may have fared better if he asserted that protection, but had failed to do so in earlier proceedings so it couldn't be raised before the justices.

A spokeswoman said the Medical Board was pleased with the decision because the database has been important in rooting out abusive prescribing practices.

More than 10 percent of the 521 disciplinary cases brought by the board in the 2015-16 fiscal year were for inappropriate prescribing, according to board statistics.

"This has been a valuable tool for us," Cassandra Hockenson said about the database. "This decision allows us to continue our mission of consumer protection."

Page 1 of 1

More Stories Like This

FILE- In this Sept. 1, 2015, file photo, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis listens to a customer at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky. A federal judge on Friday, July 21, 2017, has ordered Kentucky taxpayers to pay more than $220,000 in attorneys' fees for an elected county clerk who caused a national uproar by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)
Kentucky told to pay attorney fees in same-sex marriage case
This July 17, 2017, Dr. Ernest Marshall, owner of the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, is pictured at the door of the clinic in Louisville, KY. The clinic is the last in Kentucky offering abortion procedures and is facing a legal challenge from state officials and a major protest from a national anti-abortion group that wants it shut down. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan)
Judge's order targets Kentucky abortion clinic protesters
Joaquin Carcano speaks during a news conference in Raleigh, NC., Friday, July 21, 2017, announcing a new lawsuit over LGBT rights. The lawsuit renews a high-profile legal battle that has thrust North Carolina into the center of the national debate over LGBT rights. The state took the "bathroom bill" off the books in late March after a yearlong backlash that hurt North Carolina's reputation and caused businesses and sports leagues to back out of lucrative events and projects. Carcano and Madeline Goss, right, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. (AP Photo/Jonathan Drew)
Lawsuit: Effects of 'bathroom bill' linger in North Carolina
Judge OKs $11.2M settlement for hacked Ashley Madison usersA federal judge has approved an $11.2 million settlement between the marital infidelity website Ashley Madison and users who sued after hackers released personal information, including financial data and details of their sexual proclivities
Tennessee judge rules gay couples have equal parental rightsA judge has ruled that same-sex couples in Tennessee have the same rights as heterosexual couples who have children born through artificial insemination
FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2011, file photo, Justice Ming Chin, left, and Justice Goodwin Liu, right, listen as Ross Moody of the San Francisco office of the Attorney General, center, speaks during a proceeding at the California Supreme Court in San Francisco. A California mom's legal battle over custody of her out-of-control daughter is raising questions about the best way to deal with wayward children. The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday, July 20, 2017, that if children face substantial danger, the state can take custody of them even if the parents are trying to keep them safe. In Thursday’s ruling, Chin said a delinquency finding “may follow the minor throughout his or her life, ” while Liu acknowledged finding that a parent is inadequate, “even when the parent is not at fault, can carry a painful stigma.” (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu/Pool, File)
California custody fight raises thorny issue of wayward kids
This component is currently unavailable.
AdChoices

Related Searches

Related Searches

AdChoices