DEA Sues Colorado’s Pharmacy Board in Opioid Investigation

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is suing Colorado’s pharmacy board, demanding information from a database that tracks prescription opioids. State officials argue that they can’t release the data to the DEA without violating patients’ privacy.

The DEA is requesting the information as part of its investigation into two pharmacies. The agency is trying to determine if the pharmacies violated the law in dispensing opioids and other drugs.

The data the DEA is seeking is kept under the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, known as PDMP. PDMP tracks prescription drug use, including opioids, as well as the names of patients, pharmacies and doctors.

The DEA previously tried to acquire the information by issuing administrative subpoenas to the State Board of Pharmacy. State officials refused to oblige, citing concerns over patient privacy.

The refusal prompted the lawsuit, which hopes to have a judge order the enforcement of the subpoenas. The lawsuit names the Pharmacy Board as well as the head of Colorado’s Department of Regulator Agencies, and Appriss, Inc., the company that collects and maintains PDMP data.

The DEA argues that it needs the PDMP data to link prescribing and dispensing practices to patient harm. The agency also argues that there are legal limitations that prevent it from releasing the information. Thus, patient privacy would be protected.

“We recognize that this information is sensitive, but, just as the state does, we respect that sensitivity and will protect the confidentiality of that information from public disclosure,” said Colorado U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn in a statement. “We are disappointed with the refusal to comply with these lawful subpoenas, a refusal that has forced us to seek aid from the court in getting the information we need to carry out important law enforcement investigations aimed at combating the prescription drug abuse epidemic.”

Colorado previously provided federal officials with PDMP data. According to the agency, the state has already provided information on two of the pharmacies that are being investigated.

Colorado officials say that the state evaluates each subpoena individually. The current subpoenas, as a spokesperson said, were “substantially broader and less targeted” than previous subpoenas.

The state plans to fight the lawsuit.