In recent years in Florida, as prescription drug use has significantly increased, police have been investigating how and where people are obtaining narcotic pills without a prescription. One crime that police focus on is doctor shopping. In Florida, the crime of doctor shopping is committed when a person sees different doctors to get the same prescription pills within a thirty day period without informing the subsequent doctor(s) of the previous doctor(s). When the police think a person is doctor shopping, they often attempt to obtain the prescription drug records without consent of the patient, a subpoena or a search warrant. Florida law allows the police to do this.
In a recent case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the police obtained evidence that the suspect had obtained multiple prescriptions for Hydrocodone and Oxycontin within a short period of time from different doctors. The police officer went to the various pharmacies without notifying the suspect and without a search warrant and requested the patient’s pharmacy records. The pharmacy provided the information which showed the suspect had presented several prescriptions for the same drugs from different doctors in a short period of time. The police officer then contacted the doctors, obtained their patient contracts, spoke to the doctors about whether the suspect was a patient and had the doctors confirm they issued the prescriptions for Hydrocodone and Oxycontin without knowing the patient visited other doctors for the same reason.
The suspect was ultimately charged with trafficking in Hydrocodone and Oxycontin due to the number of pills he received with the various prescriptions. While normally having a valid prescription for pills is a legal defense to trafficking in those pills, it is not a defense if the prescriptions were obtained illegally through doctor shopping.
The criminal defense lawyer for the suspect filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the prescriptions and the evidence obtained from the doctors as that information was obtained without consent and without a proper search warrant. The criminal defense attorney argued that prescription records and medical records are confidential, and the police cannot just go and get them without consent of the patient or a court order.
The court agreed in part and disagreed in part. The patient contracts were medical records that were protected by the doctor-patient confidentiality laws. Therefore, the police could not obtain those records without the patient’s consent, a search warrant or a subpoena. Likewise, the doctors’ statements regarding the patient were also protected by the doctor-patient confidentiality laws. The police officer was not authorized to ask the doctors, or any of their staff, questions about the suspect’s medical records or status as a medical patient.
However, the prescription drug records are treated differently under Florida law. Florida law specifically provides that records of prescription drugs that are controlled substances must be maintained for at least two years for inspection by law enforcement officials investigating drug crimes. Therefore, this particular statute requires pharmacies to keep records of controlled substance prescriptions and provide them to police without a court order or even notifying the patient as long as the police come and say they are investigating a drug crime.