US Appeals Court Rules: DEA Allowed Access to NH Opioid Database Without a Warrant

On January 27, 2022, the US Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, Chief Judge Jeffrey Howard, ruled in “US Dep’t of Justice v. Jonas, No. 19-1243,” that the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) can “legally” access New Hampshire’s prescription drug database via an administrative subpoena, not a warrant. This is despite New Hampshire and United States laws to the contrary.

While 48 states have submitted to maintaining a networked prescription database (Prescription Drug Monitoring Program / PDMP), most people would argue that their personal medical and prescription records are protected by the 4th amendment (“no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.”) Personal healthcare and medical information is generally protected under doctor-patient confidentiality laws and is regarded as almost sacrosanct in the healthcare world (think HIPAA.) In this case, confidentiality was further supported by the 4th amendment to the US Constitution.

Overwhelming Support From the Liberty Community

Michelle Ricco Jonas, manager of the New Hampshire PDMP in 2018, refused the DEA’s request to fork over 2.5 years’ worth of prescription data of a “person of interest.” After being subpoenaed she argued that the records belong to the state, not an individual person. Since March 12, 2019, when the notice of appeal was docketed, Michelle Jonas and New Hampshire state received an outpouring of support from the ACLU of California, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island – in other words, all the districts represented by the 1st Circuit Court.

Over the past two grueling years of appeal, the ACLU supported Jonas, and questioned whether issuing a subpoena to a state employee is within the bounds of the district court. They argued that medical records, for all intents and purposes, are considered private information. While the DEA has the ability to subpoena an individual, the ACLU asked if that gave them the right to subpoena a representative, or employee, of the state. They also argued that the 4th Amendment requires law enforcement “to obtain a warrant based on probable cause only to secure records over which there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.” The ACLU argued that medical records warrant an expectation of privacy.

The prescription records at issue in this case reveal intimate, private, and potentially stigmatizing details about patients’ health, including details of those patients’ underlying medical conditions. For that reason, as with other medical records, people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in them.” – Summary of Argument, US Dep’t of Justice v. Jonas, No. 19-1243

 

So What Was the Loophole?

In a nutshell, the “third-party doctrine” was the loophole the DEA used to secure a “victory” in this appeal. Basically, if you voluntarily share information with a third party (say a pharmacist at CVS who fills your prescription), you magically lose your right to the 4th amendment because you voluntarily shared your private information.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You have to share that private information in order to receive your prescription medications through lawful means. If you wanna live, if you wanna beat that disease, you have to give your name, address, phone number, and all the information they need so you can just get your pills. Right? So what exactly is the alternative? The grey market? Street drugs? A life of crime?

The Feds Will Stop at Nothing to Support the Prison-Industrial Complex

It seems obvious that personal medical information is personal. We share that information with medical professionals with the expectation that their oaths of ethics and doctor-patient confidentiality will keep it that way. Everywhere we go we see “HIPAA” emblazoned there, telling us how seriously our personal medical information is treated, at the risk of sanctions, medical license removal, and prison time. Medical professionals have an entire course in this topic, and it’s included in their jurisprudence board exams.

There’s really no way to “logic” around this ruling; it’s pretty cut and dried. The DEA will stop at nothing to reach their quotas, to perpetuate the prison-industrial complex, and to erode our Constitutional rights. Unfortunately this is one of many similar rulings in the United States.

It’s up to us to continue fighting for freedom, liberty, and our Constitutional rights. It’s up to us to determine if this is acceptable or whether it’s about time we stand up against this onslaught and say, “I’m not gonna take this anymore!”

I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad! You’ve got to say, I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first, get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” – “Network” movie, 1976

 

Side Note

As of January 27, 2022, the exact date upon which this appeal was concluded, the presiding 1st Circuit Judge Jeffrey Howard announced his early retirement at the age of 66. This was the last case he will hear, and thankfully, the last case he will rule on.

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19 Comments

  1. woot! KP on the scene!

  2. wtf. And there are genuinely people out there who want to remain part of the United States? WTF is all I have to say about it.

  3. What i the big deal. Unless you are out getting opiods from multiple physicians, you don’t have anything to worry about. The 4th amendment has been brought up a few times regarding this subject. Your rights are under HIPAA not the 4th amendment when it comes to medical information. There are much more pressing issues than this.

  4. If it was 1850, the people that now work for the DEA would have “good jobs” as runaway slave catchers.

  5. why does this matter

  6. Why does it matter???? OMG, if you walked ONE DAY, Actually, ONE HOUR in the shoes of ANYONE dealing with unretractable, AGONIZING PAIN, 24/7, can’t sleep, can’t drive, can’t even walk, BECAUSE, the DEA has become our Doctor’s, THEY tell us “how much ” medication we need to HAVE A LIFE. Just imagine, WISHING to die, every day, because the PAIN DESTROYS YOU…

  7. I don’t want ANYONE other than docs, pharmacy & unfortunately insurance company knowing my personal medical business. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have an opiod issue..(or if i do) it matters because big brother is up in my shit. Get the Gov out of my personal business. And for all of you who don’t care…someday this may apply to you or your medical condition/scripts/business.

  8. It matters because the DEA has ultimate power of pretty much everything now.

  9. This is happening everywhere. They are doing amputations and major surgery and only giving Tylenol. This will effect everyone. Your parents, your children, you in a car wreck They need to stop the illegal drugs flooding the streets and leave US Drs and their patients alone.

  10. I certainly agree the government has no business in personal medical records other then if there is a case of fraud or the doctor is hurting patients. But the fact that cops could just pull these records up some day whenever they want could be a huge problem for the disabled, elderly and other people who can drive just fine but on a medication that is considered mood altering. Well lot of medication is mood altering like muscle relaxants, axienty medication anti-depressants, opiates, meds for nerve pain ect. However when you take a medication long term at the same dose those side effect that make driving dangerous normally lessen or disappear all together over time. This is why they tell you to take a new medication a few times before you try to drive on to determine how it effect you. In fact it would be more dangerous if these people did not have there medication because how good of driver are you going to be when you have moderate or severe pain or have some muscle spasm happen while going 70 mph down the freeway. Also what is mood altering to one patient is not to another patient. Well now you will have a cop who stops you for a brake light out and in his investigation he finds you are on some medication and can arrest even though you are driving fine and have never had a major accident in your life. This can be so abused and used against those who are most vulnerable un our society. Meanwhile I see driver zooming in and out of traffic going 50mph over everyone else and cops are worried about my meds. How about arresting people by there bad driving and being just careless then bothering 100% service connected Veterans who live in pain and cannot afford a chauffeur or Uber every time they have to go to a store and have to drive of they want to eat..

  11. Your disability will be known to law enforcement, and ones they share with. Not all are nice. The day will come when essentials of life will be snatched away from the weak – like candy from a baby. It’s allready happening to your parents, wherein law enforcement is restricting their pain medication to the point many will wither in agony untill the end. They will not want you or the kids to see them this way. Many will suicide. The micromanagement of this such group is not to “keep them safe” Rather, it “keeps them, the law enforcement bureaucracies, safe” from the pain that most common folk Americans will answer to, inflicted by a life’s work, measured by production and progress, blood, sweat and tears.
    Pay attention! As of now, you and I are next.

  12. This has been inhumane & life altering. Treated like a criminal for just fighting for a half life from debilitating pain of no fault of our own! So many giving up due to loss of meds & abandonment of our own drs for fear of their license doing their jobs correctly. Trying to hold on while the truth shows up no where in the media what’s really happening & the consequences. I know. I fought so hard to recover w so many awful procedures & any attempt at recovering from the injuries & Bering tried on so many useless meds before being stabilized on the opioids that gave me somewhat of a life w my child. ??

  13. This is important because it means that every pain patent becomes a suspect to be eliminated in every case that comes up.

    And somebody, some lazy or corrupt cop won’t eliminate an innocent patient.

    And the DA will use their own medical records to smear them.

  14. Some people don’t realize why this is a big deal. Besides the fact that warrants use to be required to obtain this personal/medical/Rx information, but now any law enforcement PERSON (not just officer and not just the DEA), it is a violation of our 4th amend. rights! One example of how it can harm a person (besides the fact our rights are violated), is a police officer could watch you pull away from a pharmacy, grocery store or anywhere, or stop you on a highway, etc. (maybe he/she is profiling and needs to meet a quota and because you were just planting flowers, you’re dirty so you “look” like a problem), they can look up your medical & Rx information, then charge you with driving while under the influence!! Even if you aren’t affected or a danger behind the wheel, we all know what happens when it’s their word against ours (most pain patients these days are on such a low dose, there is NO way it’s affecting their driving ability or anything else – and it’s not even helping their pain). There are many reasons why law enforcement should ONLY be able to obtain our medical records/Rx history with a warrant – which requires probable cause, like an ongoing drug investigation in which you have been implicated (they must have a lawful reason for probable cause and in must be in the legal jurisdiction)! Unfortunately, currently in the US, they can obtain our Rx history (which includes extensive medical history if you’re taking an opioid or other scheduled medication), whenever they want, and for any reason! THIS IS WRONG, but it will take A LOT of people and some really great attorney’s, to fight this and win.

  15. Addition to my previous comment: It IS also a HIPAA violation for just anyone, including anyone in law enforcement, to access our medical records, which are now part of our medication histories, without our explicit consent and/or without a warrant (where they had probable cause to petition the court for the warrant). At least this is how it use to be!

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