Pubdate: Sun, 05 Jul 2015
Source: Salt Lake Tribune (UT)
Copyright: 2015 The Salt Lake Tribune


If the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says it can't do its job 
without bypassing a judge's signature, it raises reasonable 
suspicions about law enforcement operating without proper oversight.

If the DEA adds that such a bypass is needed to stop Utahns from 
overdosing at high rates, it exposes just how shameless the war on 
drugs has become.

In a move that raises the specter of indiscriminate NSA phone 
monitoring, the federal government's drug cops are pushing back 
against a Utah law that took effect this year that requires a judge 
to sign a search warrant for access to the state's data base of 
prescriptions. Before that law, law enforcement could simply use 
"administrative subpoenas" that required no signoff from a judge.

It is precisely because of the abuse of such subpoenas that Sen. Todd 
Weiler, R-Woods Cross, sponsored the Utah law. The prescription data 
base was created in 1995 to track the blossoming problem of 
prescription drug abuse, particularly pain medications, and police 
could access it without a formal warrant from a judge.

In a notorious case, Cottonwood Heights police searched through every 
prescription issued to 480 Unified Fire Authority employees after 
pills were found missing from ambulances. If that egregious violation 
of privacy wasn't enough, prosecutors eventually filed faulty charges 
against one assistant fire chief based on the search. He was cleared, 
and he's now suing Cottonwood Heights.

DEA's spokeswoman says the state's new requirement "will 
significantly hamper our mission," but she didn't elaborate on how. 
All the Utah law asks is that the DEA get a judge to sign a warrant 
before the data base can be searched. That is something that could 
take as little as a couple of hours in a process that most of law 
enforcement uses daily. It also adds a measure of legitimacy to any 
investigation, meaning that the eventual charges have a better chance 
of sticking.

The DEA spokeswoman even raised Utah's high overdose rate to justify 
what is essentially an end run around the Fourth Amendment's illegal 
search and seizure protections, but it doesn't come close. Supply 
interdiction may still be a part of combatting the scourge of drug 
abuse, but 40 years of futility in cutting off supplies have shown 
that it's not the critical part. The real solution lies in treatment 
and support.

DEA should follow the same rules as the rest of law enforcement. This 
is a Utah challenge to federal authority that makes sense.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom