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Prescription monitoring flagged by N.L. privacy commissioner

Donovan Molloy
Donovan Molloy - The Telegram

Health minister says no additional drugs to be monitored without consultations

Newfoundland and Labrador Information and Privacy Commissioner Donovan Molloy has publicly stated his concerns with draft legislation that would allow for a new prescription drug monitoring program.

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) must be notified when proposed legislation could have implications for information access or privacy in the province. After receiving the bill for prescription monitoring, Molloy stated in a news release Thursday that he met with Health officials to express his concerns.

He reports flagging the potential monitoring of drugs beyond opioids, and specifically drugs that are not considered addictive, while also questioning the reach of government.

“The OIPC view is that this could permit wide-scale access to personal health information without sufficient objective (i.e. significant societal harms),” it states. “This exacerbates the OIPC’s concerns about future expansion of the prescription monitoring program to other drugs and consequent intrusions upon the privacy of personal health information.”

Molloy said the search powers being afforded to government appeared excessive.

The Health minister isn’t required to follow recommendations from Molloy’s office. That said, John Haggie has mentioned consultations with Molloy in early debate around the bill.

In the House of Assembly Thursday, Progressive Conservative MHA David Brazil asked about the details of the bill, including powers being afforded to the minister and what drugs might be listed in future as part of the program, under regulations that don’t need a House vote.

Haggie said he looks forward to further debate and work on the bill in the committee setting, and is not closing the door to changes.

Enforcement powers are under discussion, he said, but enforcement capabilities are necessary.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information will be delegated the responsibility for the monitoring program, he added, and an advisory board will also be put in place.

As for what drugs are covered, responding to Brazil’s direct questioning, Haggie said having the list of drugs in the regulations instead of the act allows for the quick response from government in the case of any new drug epidemic. Cabinet can more speedily list a drug for monitoring, as opposed to it having to come to the House of Assembly.

The government’s focus right now is bringing in the monitoring program as part of its opioid action plan — trying to get a handle on prescription opioids being abused or diverted to the illegal drug trade and, Haggie emphasized, trying to address drug-related deaths.

“Sixteen people died in this province last year. No time for any more feet dragging, Mr. Speaker,” he said, “Let’s get on with it.”

Following the privacy commissioner’s statement, a statement from Haggie noted any drugs added to the monitoring program down the line would be added only with consultation with both the advisory committee and provincial privacy commissioner. As well, he reiterated anyone involved in monitoring would fall under the controls of the Personal Health Information Act.

In terms of enforcement and other concerns, he said the government is being guided by existing legislation in other provinces and the lessons learned when monitoring has rolled out elsewhere.

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