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BCCLA attacks proposed Surrey methadone information by-law

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The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has gone on the attack against a by-law to be voted on by Surrey City Council tonight.

The by-law will require pharmacists to keep lists of patients’ methadone records, including dosages, doctors’ prescriptions and make them available to law enforcement officials.

“This is probably the most private and sensitive of all personal information and the City of Surrey is proposing to hand it out like candy,” said BCCLA President John Dixon. “Pharmacists will be caught between this by-law requiring them to make lists, check them twice and hand them over to the police, and the College of Pharmacists, their governing legislation and Code of Ethics telling them they can’t release it. It makes no sense whatsoever for the City of Surrey to do this.”

The proposed bylaw is the latest in a series of attacks on pharmacies supplying methadone to recovering drug addicts in Surrey. The City has imposed a 5000 percent business license fee increase on the pharmacies dispensing methadone in the Whalley area. A number of the pharmacies are challenging that by-law in court.

“Clearly the Mayor of Surrey is hoping to get rid of these pharmacists and the patients they serve,” Dixon said. “There is obviously a serious drug and crime problem in Whalley, but this isn’t the way to go about dealing with it.”

The BCCLA has written to the Mayor of Surrey to outline its many concerns with this by-law, as have a number of other concerned groups, including the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA). The provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner has begun an investigation into the Surrey by-law and similar ones in other municipalities.

Dear Mayor McCallum: I am writing to you on behalf of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association regarding the latest measure to attack pharmacies providing methadone in your city and the people who depend on them for treatment.

The BCCLA is the oldest and most active civil liberties group in Canada. We have spent the past 40 years working to preserve, defend, maintain and extend civil liberties and human rights in British Columbia and across Canada.

I understand that you have directed the preparation of a bylaw allegedly aimed at eliminating “carries” when methadone is provided to a patient by a pharmacist for consumption elsewhere. This is apparently to be debated at your next Council meeting. The bylaw will:

  • require pharmacists to keep a register including the name of the patient, their ID and the physician’s prescription
  • note whether the prescription is approved by a physician as a carry and the amount of the carry prescription
  • require certification by the pharmacist that the methadone was consumed in his or her presence
  • a statistical summary of identifying the number of carries and non-prescribed carries

All this personal medical information will have to be made available to law enforcement officers, and there will be penalties for failure to comply.

The BCCLA find your bylaw repugnant as an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of patients . This bylaw is only the latest in a by-law aimed at pharmacies in the Whalley area. You have already imposed a 5000 percent increase in their business license fees on these pharmacies, and it is difficult not to draw the conclusion that you are trying to run these businesses and their patients out of your town.

On the face of it, the by-law you are proposing appears to intrude on provincial jurisdiction, specifically the authority of the College of Pharmacists to regulate the practice of that profession.

It would also force pharmacists to create a database for law enforcement authorities, with no apparent restriction on how the police or by-law enforcement officers would be able to use the information. Given how sensitive personal medical information is, this should be a serious concern for everyone.

If there is a problem with criminal activity such as drug trafficking at or near these pharmacies, the police should deal with it as a criminal matter. If there are shortcomings with the standard of practice of these licensed pharmacies, the College of Pharmacists has the authority to address these problems. You have the ability, as do all citizens, to file complaints with both of these organizations. However, you cannot and should not do their jobs for them.

Any attempt to export these health issues to other municipalities is doomed to failure. I would suggest that you look seriously at concrete measures to help these citizens who are suffering with a serious health problem but who are trying to get better. We would be happy to help you work toward that end.

We hope you will consider all of these factors and reconsider this overreaching and offensive bylaw.

Sincerely,

John Dixon President

cc. David Loukidelis, Information and Privacy Commissioner