Arizona city plans to fingerprint pharmacy customers

(RAW STORY)   An Arizona city’s proposed law requiring people buying certain drugs to be fingerprinted has civil liberties advocates concerned about what they say is an unwarranted intrusion on privacy rights.

Facing a growing problem with prescription fraud, the Phoenix suburb of Peoria is considering an ordinance that would require people picking up prescriptions for commonly abused drugs to be fingerprinted.

The law, which would target prescriptions for painkillers such as OxyContin and Percocet, would also require pharmacies to videotape everyone who comes to the prescription counter and keep the videotape for 60 days. Even people picking up a prescription for a family member would have to be fingerprinted.

The Arizona ACLU’s legal director, Daniel Pochoda, told a state pharmacy board meeting Monday that the law would turn pharmacies into “annexes for police stations” and would treat people not suspected of any crime as potential criminals.

“The proposed law is not limited to those persons who are suspected of fraud and the great majority of those involuntarily required to be printed will never be subjects of a criminal prosecution,” the ACLU said in a statement.

“I don’t like labeling patients who take chronic medications as abusers,” said John Musil, a pharmacist and member of the pharmacy board. “I don’t see why I as a pharmacist am now going to become a law official. That’s not what I was trained to do.”

But city attorneys and police officials argued the ordinance was necessary to fight a growing problem with prescription drug abuse. The Arizona Republicreported that the number of fraud cases in Peoria has doubled since 2009, from 50 cases to 100.

“We have a problem with fraudulent prescriptions and the value of the pills on the street,” city attorney Steve Kemp told ABC channel 15.

In a November report calling for the law, the Peoria Police Department said there was “a huge black market” for OxyContin and similar painkillers, and that it was becoming a “national epidemic.”

Some civil liberties advocates worried the fingerprint records would be used by police for purposes not related to prescription fraud, and would result in personal information involving health records being tied to police databases.

“The public needs to expect that if this type of monitoring and recording is legalized, the data will be shared and not just on a local or state level for criminal purposes,” the PHIPrivacy blog, which covers privacy issues related to medicine, declared last month. “The data will inevitably be linked to part of a national database that itself can be linked to [other] national databases.”

Others argued the law would be ineffective because those seeking painkillers illegitimately would go to pharmacies in other cities.

“Those who seek drugs fraudulently would simply go elsewhere,” said Mindy Smith, head of the Arizona Pharmacy Alliance.

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