FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — State health officials said Wednesday they were beefing up security of the statewide prescription drug database to protect patient information, a week after the American Civil Liberties Union said patients' personal information was leaked.
The Florida Department of Health said it was working with law enforcement officials and Attorney General Pam Bondi to explore addition safety measures, including limiting the number of people from state agencies allowed to use the database, creating a system requiring all agency administrators be notified when a user requests database information and potentially disqualifying users who compromise patient information.
State officials said they also want more clearly displayed penalties for improper disclosure on the program's web-based disclosure screens.
Health officials are currently working on rules about the enhanced security and access of the database and will hold a workshop next month where stakeholders and the public can weigh in.
State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. John Armstrong said the database "works daily to save the lives of those with prescription narcotic addiction and privacy is job one. That's why today the department is taking steps forward to put additional safeguards in place to prevent any unauthorized use of information that is intended to save lives."
The database, which lawmakers created in an effort to crack down on the state's pill mills, leaked thousands of patients' personal information, even though some of the details were not part of any criminal investigation, the American Civil Liberties Union said last week.
Personal details, including dosage amounts, birthdates, addresses and other information was given to Volusia County prosecutors and defense attorneys who were working on six criminal cases. The ACLU said someone who was not part of a criminal investigation found out their prescription information was also given to the lawyers. It's unclear how many patients had information leaked who were not part of a criminal investigation.
Law enforcement officials said Florida has become the nation's epicenter of prescription drug abuse, at least in part because it was among several states that were late to implement monitoring programs.
Florida lawmakers approved the database, which tracks prescriptions for painkillers and other highly abused drugs, in a 2009 vote that split GOP legislators for weeks. The system was plagued by a series of political, legal and financial obstacles. It wasn't up and running until late 2011.
The system was first was hampered by a lack of state funding and was forced to rely, instead, on federal grants and private contributions.
Gov. Rick Scott tried to kill it with help from House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. The Republican governor relented in the face of opposition from Bondi, former Senate President Mike Haridopolos and other senators who refused to repeal the law that created the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.
State health officials said Florida deaths due to oxycodone have decreased by 17 percent and the number of doctor shoppers has decreased by nearly 58 percent since the database started.
Bondi called the increased security efforts a "common sense step to prevent criminal defense attorneys from compromising the confidentiality of Floridians' prescription records. The PDMP will help us save lives, and it's important that Floridians understand that the law enforcement community respects the laws that protect their privacy."
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