Surveillance Close to Home

We are working to register 5,000 Mainers as Libertarians in order to gain full party status in Maine.  We hope to see Libertarians elected to statewide office so that libertarian values can influence the political discourse in Augusta.

In recent years we have seen frequent reports of various domestic surveillance programs, usually conducted by the federal government.  It is pretty clear that all Internet and telephone data is being captured and many license plates are being scanned.  The status of cell phone GPS location data remains a mystery.  The American people do not see this as enough of a problem to demand that the programs be terminated immediately, and politicians are, as usual, "concerned" but take little action.  Unfortunately, surveillance begins closer to home and even a government as limited in resources as is the Maine state government runs secret surveillance databases.

If you go to a pharmacy to fill a prescription for any controlled substance, as defined by the federal DEA, the pharmacist, in addition to his usual responsibilities related to safe medication practices, will enter you and your prescription into the Maine Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP).  You will not be told that the entry is being made and you will not be offered a chance to opt out.  If you later contact the government in Augusta to have your supposedly private medical and personal information removed from the PMP database your request will be denied.  Many of the names in the database are those of children who take stimulants for attention deficit disorder.

The data in this database is searchable and is put to daily use by state workers and registered prescribers.  In order to be able to search the database, one must be a pharmacist or a prescriber of controlled substances registered with the federal DEA or a member of that prescriber’s staff.  In practice it is doctors and dentists who are encouraged to use the PMP, and the state is now in the midst of a push to make sure that all medical professionals use the system to spy on their patients when they prescribe controlled substances, in order to prevent addicts from obtaining multiple prescriptions.  Because any patient can see any doctor at any time, the data about every person in the PMP is freely available to those who are allowed to search it.  There is no mechanism to verify that the prescriber using the database has a professional relationship with the subject of the search.  The system runs on the promise that doctors and their staff members will do the right thing.  The state for its part uses the database to issue reports to doctors on patients that they suspect of shopping multiple doctors for drugs.

For the first 10 years of the PMP, the Veterans Administration could not submit data to this program about the VA-prescribed controlled substances, creating a gap that involved roughly 10% of all controlled substance prescriptions in Maine.  Most importantly, Methadone clinics do not enter the data on their clients into the database.  Addicts on Methadone, because of their addiction diagnosis, enjoy privacy protections under federal law that the rest of us do not have.  Maine is currently working to “share the PMP data” with other states so that this surveillance program can become national.

This program was started by legislation and with federal funds in 2003.  One may ask if, over the 10 years of the PMP’s operation, the number of overdose deaths in Maine has gone down.  As you can see in the attached graph from the Attorney General’s office, the answer is no.  About 110 people in Maine died every year for two years before the program collected data and every year since.


The shape of the curve on this graph reflects the marketing history of prescription narcotics in general and the drug Oxycontin, introduced in 1996 by Purdue Pharma, in particular.  Purdue has been fined about $600 million so far, and Purdue executives have paid nearly $34 million in fines related to deceptive marketing practices.  One of the creepiest aspects of what Purdue did was funding organizations that were working on societal attitudes toward pain in order to make the culture of pain complaints and pain medications more acceptable.

Thirty-seven states now have PMPs and eleven more are working on creating them.  State and federal governments see them as public health tools and systematically reject the argument that mandatory taking of this health care data is an unreasonable warrant-less search.  Oregon objected to federal DEA demands for information from the Oregon PMP.  A lawsuit, which has been joined by the ACLU, is currently in progress.  If Oregon and the ACLU win, DEA will need a warrant to get information from state-run PMPs but the states themselves will not.  ACLU called PMPs – “another part of a failed War on Drugs.”

After all the years of destruction that the war on drugs brought us, this ‘war’ is now trying to merge itself with other domestic surveillance programs so that we are all affected.  We are no longer able to watch from the sidelines as other people are incarcerated and other families and futures are destroyed.  All it takes to get into the system now is a license plate, an electronic communication or a prescription.  Join the fight for our rights by joining the Libertarian movement.