February 11, 2002
POLICE ACCESS TO PHARMACY RECORDS
By: John Kasprak, Senior Attorney
You asked if state law allows the police to enter a pharmacy without a search warrant to review prescription drug records.
CGS § 21a-265 provides that "prescriptions, orders and records ...and stocks of controlled substances shall be open for inspection only to federal, state, county and municipal officers, whose duty it is to enforce the laws of this state or of the United States relating to controlled substances, and to third party payors having a formal agreement or contract to audit such prescriptions, orders and records in connection with claims submitted to such payors. " This statute continues, "no such officer or third party payor having knowledge by virtue of his office of any prescription, order or record shall divulge such knowledge, except in connection with a civil action or criminal prosecution in court or before a licensing or registration board or officer, to which action, prosecution or proceeding the person to whom such prescriptions, orders, or records relate is a party. "
The Connecticut Supreme Court, in a recent 3-2 decision, cited this law and a 1977 U. S. Supreme Court decision in finding that the police did not need a search warrant to enter a pharmacy and review the prescription records of a defendant (State of Connecticut v. Nicholas Russo, SC 16430, February 2002; copy of decision attached). The court stated that "our conclusion that § 21a-265 allows law enforcement officials access to records of prescriptions for controlled substances is buttressed by other provisions of the statutory scheme regulating the lawful dispensing and use of controlled substances. " In particular, the court cites § 21a-250, which provides that a prescription must be "retained on file by the proprietor of the pharmacy in which it is filled for a periods of three years, so as to be readily accessible for inspection by any public officer or employee engaged in the enforcement of ...chapter 420b of the General Statutes..." (Chapter 420b includes the state's criminal drug laws. ) The court also notes CGS § 20-626, which mandates the confidentiality of pharmacy records. It contains seven exceptions to the general rule of confidentiality, including authorizing pharmacists to "provide pharmacy records or information to...any governmental agency with statutory authority to review or obtain such information (§ 20-626(b)(5)). Another exception authorizes pharmacists to provide prescription records to "any individual, the state or federal government or any agency thereof or court pursuant to a subpoena..." (§ 20-265(b)(6)).
The court highlighted one other statute in support of its construction of § 20-265. CGS § 20-274 provides that the commissioners of public health and consumer protection, police officers, and all state prosecutors must cooperate with each other and exchange investigative information related to criminal violations of the drug laws.