Judge may allow DEA to access Utah’s controlled substance database

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has indicated he may allow the Drug Enforcement Administration to have access to Utah’s controlled substances database without a warrant.

In a draft ruling filed in U.S. District Court, Judge David Nuffer suggested he may rule against the Utah Department of Commerce, which is fighting the DEA.

FOX 13 first reported on the issue last year. The DEA is seeking access to the state’s controlled substances database, which tracks prescriptions of opioids and other high-level drugs. The DEA has said it is conducting an investigation into an unnamed medical professional who is prescribing pills that are then sold.

The state of Utah has so far refused to grant the DEA access without a warrant, citing Fourth Amendment rights against search and seizure. The DEA insists its administrative subpoena should be sufficient.

The ACLU of Utah and Equality Utah joined the lawsuit to advocate for privacy interests.

In the draft ruling, Judge Nuffer claimed a lot of the information is already in government hands.

“The first seizure occurs when the State, which is undeniably a government entity, records details of every prescription for every controlled substance dispensed in the State of Utah to any individual other than an inpatient in a licensed health care facility,” he wrote. “The State shares this information with DOPL personnel conducting investigations or analysis, health care practitioners, therapists, pharmacists, and—pursuant to agreements with DOPL but not the individual patients or prescribers—the Department of Health and its personnel. In that way the State already has seized what the Intervenors describe as ‘some of the most personal and sensitive information people have: prescription records and the confidential medical information they reveal.'”

If he does side with the DEA, Judge Nuffer indicated to attorneys he will make his ruling public next week.