Marlon Jones was arrested for taking legal painkillers, prescribed to him by a doctor, after a double knee replacement.
Jones, an assistant fire chief of Utah’s Unified Fire Authority, was snared in a dragnet pulled through the state’s program to monitor prescription drugs after someone stole morphine from an ambulance in 2012. To find the missing morphine, cops used their unrestricted access to the state’s Prescription Drug Monitor Program database to look at the private medical records of nearly 500 emergency services personnel—without a warrant.
Jones was arrested along with another firefighter and a paramedic on suspicion of prescription fraud.
“I got a call at work from the police chief, who I know and work with,” Jones testified before a state senate committee last year. “He said ‘We think you have a problem, you’re taking too many medications. We need to make sure you’re no longer a threat to the community or yourself. So we’re doing this to help you.’”
Jones described in tearful detail what happened next.
“There were three police officers pounding on the door. They said they had a warrant for my arrest and they were going to take me in,” he said. “It was the middle of the day, on my front doorstep, in front of my wife and daughter. I’m handcuffed and stuffed into a police car and they haul me to jail.”
Jones was hit with 14 felony counts but all of them were later dropped.
Now the Drug Enforcement Administration wants that same kind of power, starting with access to an Oregon database containing the private medical data of more than a million people.
The DEA has claimed for years that under federal law it has the authority to access the state’s Prescription Drug Monitor Program database using only an “administrative subpoena.” These are unilaterally issued orders that do not require a showing of probable cause before a court, like what’s required to obtain a warrant.
In 2012 Oregon sued the DEA to prevent it from enforcing the subpoenas to snoop around its drug registry. Two years ago a U.S. District Court found in favor of the state, ruling that prescription data is covered by the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unlawful search and seizure.
But the DEA didn’t stop there. It appealed the ruling to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco and has been fighting tooth and nail ever since to access Oregon’s files on its own terms.