Privacy: State Interest in Regulation of Potentially Harmful Drugs Outweighs Individuals' Right to Privacy of Prescription Records-State V. Russo

By Kochhar, Rajpreet K. | American Journal of Law & Medicine, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Privacy: State Interest in Regulation of Potentially Harmful Drugs Outweighs Individuals' Right to Privacy of Prescription Records-State V. Russo


Kochhar, Rajpreet K., American Journal of Law & Medicine


Privacy: State Interest in Regulation of Potentially Harmful Drugs Outweighs Individuals' Right to Privacy of Prescription Records-State v. Russo1-The Supreme Court of Connecticut held that a public official responsible for safeguarding public health and safety may validly request prescription information or records in the course of performing his or her official duties.2 Defendant Nicholas Russo, a detective in the Hartford police department, became the subject of an investigation for forgery and obtaining controlled substances by forging prescriptions. Marcus Brown, an investigator working with Russo's supervisor, acquired Russo's prescription records with the pharmacists' permission but without a warrant or Russo's prior consent. Russo moved to suppress the prescription records.3

The trial court granted Russo's motion, finding that as the subject of a criminal investigation, he had "a constitutionally protected privacy interest in those [prescription] records," requiring either a search warrant or Russo's consent.4 The state appealed, claiming that Russo's prescription records were legally acquired with the pharmacists' consent, and that Russo's Fourth Amendment rights were not violated.5

The Connecticut Supreme Court emphasized the plain language of the statute at issue, which specifies that "[p]rescriptions shall be open for inspection only to federal, state, county and municipal officers, whose duty it is to enforce the laws ... relating to controlled substances."6 Focusing on the statute's legislative history and purpose, the court read the relevant section along with other provisions7 to indicate that the "central purpose of the record retention requirement . . . is to ensure that prescriptions will be 'accessible for inspection' by law enforcement officials responsible for enforcing those laws."8 The court concluded that Brown, working in conjunction with the Hartford police, clearly fit into the "law enforcement official" language and subsequently was authorized to obtain Russo's prescription records with only the pharmacists' consent.9

The court held that Russo's Fourth Amendment right to privacy was not violated when Brown obtained Russo's prescription records without a warrant or prior consent.10 Although courts have not clearly defined the boundaries of one's right to privacy, it is "not absolute."11 The court noted that a person could reasonably expect his or her prescription records to remain private because of the medical information contained therein.12 However, the court also stressed that "the reasonableness of a person's expectation that his or her personal or intimate medical information will not be disclosed [is dependant] upon the circumstances underlying the particular disclosure."13 The court concluded that "a legitimate request for prescription information or records by a public official responsible for safeguarding public health and safety is a valid exercise of the state's police powers, and, consequently, does not constitute an impermissible invasion of privacy. …

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