In a recent criminal case south of Jacksonville, Florida, undercover police officers claimed the defendant illegally sold them prescription drugs Oxycodone and Xanax. The police then obtained the defendant’s pharmacy records from two different pharmacies without a search warrant or subpoena. Those records showed that the defendant was seeing two different doctors for the same condition and receiving prescriptions for the pills he was allegedly re-selling. The police then contacted the doctors to obtain medical information about the defendant. This was also done without a search warrant or subpoena. The police found out when the defendant’s next appointment was with his doctor and waited to arrest him there. When he was arrested, the police found more Oxycodone and marijuana in his possession. The defendant was charged with sale of controlled substances (the prescription drugs Oxycodone and Xanax) and possession of a controlled substance and marijuana.
The criminal defense lawyer for the defendant filed a motion to suppress all of the evidence of the illegal drugs based on the argument that the police illegally obtained information and evidence about the defendant without the required consent, subpoena or search warrant. Florida law provides that medical providers may not discuss medical information or release medical information about a patient without the patient’s consent or a subpoena from the court. This is the law because a person’s medical condition and medical records are confidential and cannot be shared with others without the patient’s permission or a justifiable legal reason acknowledged by a judge.
However, the court partially disagreed with the criminal defense attorney and found the police officers’ actions to be legal with regard to the pharmacy records. The reason is that in Florida, pharmacy records of prescriptions for controlled substances are governed by a different statute which allows the police to obtain those records without a subpoena or search warrant. The statute with respect to pharmacy records of controlled substances is not clear in limiting the circumstances when a police officer can obtain those records. The statute seems to authorize the police to obtain one’s pharmacy records of controlled substances when the police are enforcing “the laws of this state relating to controlled substances.” Practically, this would seem to mean any time the police are calling a pharmacy and requesting the records.
However, the court did find a problem with the police obtaining medical information about the defendant from the doctor as doctors and general medical information are bound by the confidentiality laws.
As a result, people need to understand that general medical information is confidential and cannot be shared with the police without the patient’s consent or a subpoena, i.e. court order. On the other hand, pharmacy records regarding controlled substances are not protected by the same confidentiality rules, and police may have fairly easy access to them.