Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:
The Register-Guard, Feb. 6, on getting a warrant to view health records:
Law enforcement advocates would like to chip away at Oregonians' health privacy. They want access to prescription records maintained by the Oregon Health Authority without judicial review. That's a terrible idea.
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The OHA oversees a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program that tracks who prescribes what to whom. The database is walled off from casual review to protect privacy. Mostly only medical professionals can look at the records. That way a doctor can check to see if a patient is taking any other drugs that might react badly with something she is considering prescribing.
The program monitors prescriptions for opioids, amphetamines, narcotics, anabolic steroids and other addictive or street-popular drugs. Pharmacists enter data about patients (name, date of birth, etc.) and their prescribing doctor after filling a prescription.
Law enforcement has limited access to these state health records. They must obtain a court order as part of an active drug-related investigation. State health licensing boards also can review the data as part of an active investigation into a licensee.
Requiring law enforcement to get a warrant is the same reasonable check that applies to so many other pieces of personal information. Judicial scrutiny prevents abuse.
But Oregon Secretary of State Dennis' Richardson's auditors think it's too much of a barrier. In an audit released in December, they recommended allowing police to skip the warrant.
The idea has insidious appeal. Why not help cops catch the addicts and dealers who are buying up too many drugs or doctors who hand out prescriptions too easily?
"Trust us, we have only your best interests at heart" should never fly as a reason to give up privacy. The nation's Founders wrote the Fourth Amendment specifically to protect Americans against government's sticking its nose where it doesn't belong. History is full of cases where government abused even small invasions of privacy implemented with the best stated intentions. Look no further than the National Security Agency's program of warrantless wiretapping.
Sometimes there is an overwhelmingly compelling reason to carve out an exception to privacy, but law enforcement and state auditors need to make a much stronger case for this one. The public should make an informed choice.
People have legitimate reasons to worry about their health privacy beyond the self-evident fact that our health is no one's business but our own. If records about health conditions and prescription drug use leak out, insurance companies and employers might turn it against people. And there's no reason to trust that law enforcement or other investigators will maintain confidentiality considering the many data breaches companies and governments have had in recent years. The fewer places such information is stored, the better.
Oregon and most other states track prescriptions to help with health care, not arrests. Substance use disorders are a medical condition that requires health care intervention and support, not just criminal justice. America cannot arrest its way out of the opioid epidemic.
Turning a medical database into a law enforcement tool would violate the fundamental reason the it exists.
East Oregonian, Feb. 5, on anti-vaxxers putting everyone at risk:
Over the past few weeks, we have received reports of an outbreak of measles in southwestern Washington, which has now hit more than 50 patients.
"But I thought we eradicated measles along with polio and a host of other serious diseases through vaccination," you might be thinking to yourself.
You'd be right about that. The U.S., for all practical purposes, had indeed eradicated these pestilences as vaccines developed by top health care pioneers like the legendary Dr. Jonas Salk virtually wiped out these dreaded afflictions.
So what has changed?
In the Clark County (Vancouver), Washington, case, it has been reported that 42 out of the 49 known patients who have contracted the measles were not vaccinated.
One patient had only received a partial vaccination and the status of the six others was unknown. Health officials suspect the outbreak can be traced to exposure at the Portland International Airport, the Moda Center and other possible sites in and around the Portland area.
A separate group of cases have been reported among the Orthodox Jewish community in New York State.
What ties these two diverse population groups together is they are both at the heart of an anti-vaccination movement in the U.S.
Whether refusal to be vaccinated is based upon religious conviction or the misguided belief that children can be healthier without them, many parents are refusing to have their children immunized. They place us all at higher risk.
As one Washington state epidemiologist stated, "This is entirely preventable."
It is indeed preventable, but only if we can successfully inoculate the entire population, so as to protect the most vulnerable among us — the young, the aged, and those with already-compromised immune systems.
Perhaps with the passage of time, we as a society have forgotten what terrible consequences these maladies can wreak upon human populations when left unchecked. Maybe it's time for a new round of education, just as the older generation among us received back in the 1950s and '60s when these vaccinations were becoming widespread.
Meanwhile, the apparently growing ranks of "anti-vaxxers," as they have become known, are holding proven science, best health care practices, and the rest of us hostage.
If you have children, please ensure that they are vaccinated and follow the recommended immunization schedule that virtually every state and local health department advocates. Do it for them and do it for all of us.
Corvallis Gazette-Times, Feb. 4, on snowpack numbers boding ill for summer:
Is it too early to be worried about the snowpack levels in the mid-valley?
Well, it is early February, so time remains for a last batch of winter storms to bring the snowpack here back to average levels. It could be that we'll get one of those storms over the next day or two. If that happens, it could snarl travel today and Tuesday — but as you cope with the potential of slick roads, it might help a bit to remember that there could be a payoff for our travel woes high in the region's mountains.
It's always worthwhile to keep an eye on the state of the region's snowpack, and for a very good reason: The snowpack is an important indicator of how our summer will go. Will our forests dry out weeks or months before they should, leading to a busy fire season? Will farmers have adequate water supplies for irrigation? Will we have enough water to ensure a strong recreation season, with fishing and rafting and all the other activities that we enjoy in an Oregon summer?
Thus far this year, there is reason for concern. Officials with the Natural Resources Conservation Service say that snowpack statewide remains well below normal. The amounts vary across the state, of course, and there are some interesting numbers to ponder: For example, the Willamette Valley basin has a snow water equivalent level of about 54 percent of normal.
The basin that's faring the worst thus far this year is around Mount Hood and the Lower Deschutes, with a snow water equivalent of about 49 percent of normal.
In Southern Oregon, which has been victimized by years of drought, the number isn't much better: As of last week, its snow water equivalent was at about 61 percent of normal. (In terms of drought, however, it's worth remembering that all of Oregon remains under some degree of drought designation, which puts a priority on efforts to conserve water wherever possible. This could be the new normal, even for traditionally rain-soaked western Oregon.)
East of the Cascades, this year's snowpack numbers start to look better, with averages ranging from 83 percent of normal (John Day) to 101 (the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Willow basin).
Statewide, we're sitting at about 67 percent, which reflects the lower snowpack numbers on the western side of the state.
In a normal year, much of the snowpack that helps create adequate stream flows into the summer months accumulates in December and January, but both of those months were drier than usual this season. The long-range forecast for February is mixed, at least as far as snowpack goes: Forecasters at the National Weather Service said last week that chances are good the month will be drier and cooler than usual. Drier conditions, obviously, won't do much for snowpack — but a string of cooler days could help preserve what snowpack there is for a little longer.
As far as the implications for wildfires, it's never a good sign when snowpack lags behind average. And it didn't help that January brought warmer-than-usual temperatures throughout the Pacific Northwest, which sometimes means that precipitation falls as rain instead of snow. Even though the mid-valley may experience cooler temperatures than usual this month, the National Weather Service thinks that March, April and May may bring warmer-than-usual weather.
The good news, at least for the next few months, is that the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, which tracks fire potential nationwide, sees a normal potential for significant wildland fires in the Northwest through May.
The bad news, of course, is that the fire experts at the center likely will see fit to revise that prediction, unless the next two months bring a significant dose of moisture to the region. Try to keep that in mind while you're coping with whatever the weather brings the next couple of days.