February 10, 2009
Arizona has launched a new computer database that tracks prescription drug usage.
The information is stored in a state-managed, centralized database that can be accessed by doctors and pharmacists around the state.
The program, which was launched in December and is overseen by the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy, is designed to cut down on the persistent problem of prescription-drug abuse.
At the same time, it is raising concerns among privacy-rights groups that fear computer hackers or nosey health workers will access patients’ personal information.
“There is a noble goal there, to stop the abuse of narcotic drugs,” said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. “But obviously, any database is subject to breach.”
For the most part, there has been little public outcry over the programs, Stephens said. “They really haven’t gotten much publicity,” he said.
State health officials said that so far they know of no breach of any similar database in another state.
With the Arizona system, pharmacy board officials said, access to the database is recorded and limited to pharmacists and doctors.