Friday, March 15, 1999

Timothy Appleby

p. A3.

Methadone users say program lists available to police

Confidential information is being leaked recovering drug addicts in Ontario say

When Tony, a long-time methadone patient, was pulled over by Toronto police this past October while driving along Eglington Avenue in the city's west end, he was not surprised.

He and his friend were in an area where crack cocaine is prevalent, and a computer check on his licence plate was sure to reveal that he was on probation for assault.

But what did bother him was the alleged comment from one of the officers to Tony's companion . "Are you on methadone too?"

Tony, 32, is one of the three legally registered methadone users who in separate interviews told a similar tale: In the course of otherwise routine spot checks, police knew they were on a methadone program.

For John, a 31-year-old plumber, the alleged encounter occurred this month in Toronto's Cabbagetown.

"They said, 'You're a junkie, you came here to buy crack.' I said, 'How do you know I'm on methadone?" He writes my name in his book and says, 'Don't come back here; I don't want to see you any more.'

What particularly bothers Steve, a 24-year-old sales manager who recounts being pulled over by provincial police last summer in Durham Region, is that he says he has no criminal record at all. The police check should have come up blank.

"But one of the cops got out of the car and said, 'so you're on the methadone program, are you?" I said, "Yeah, I'm a recovering addict."

If police have that data on the national computer system of the Canadian Police Information Centre, largely a compendium of criminal records, a major — and illegal — violation of privacy is occurring, since methadone is a legally prescribed medicine.

Police deny they have access to that kind of information.

"It's not true," said Detective Courtland Booth of the Toronto Police drug information unit. "If you end up in a methadone program, the police have nothing to do with that, I look at CPIC all the time. We don't keep track of people on methadone; there's a confidentiality issue that's paramount… We have enough trouble keeping the important information on CPIC. We haven't got the capacity for that, and I would know."

Toronto Police Inspector Margo Boyd said the same.

"The information could have come in a variety of ways. It could have been a conversation between two police cars, it could have been on the occurrence system (an in-house parallel computer system that tracks ongoing investigations). but not from CPIC."

Drug addicts are notorious liars. Nonetheless, the accounts offered by the three methadone patients seem credible.

And if they are true, how might that information have leaked out?

One physician who dispenses methadone says that back in the days when Ottawa supervised the entire program, it was widely rumoured that federal officials would quietly supply the names of methadone users to the RCMP, which oversees the CPIC system.

"It was general knowledge and there was nothing we could do about it."

Wrong, responded RCMP sergeant Andre' Guertin. "I've checked with a contact here and he has no recollection of anything with respect to a list of such names."

Nor is any such list coming from the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, which now oversees the province's methadone program, spokesman James Maclean said.

"How the police get it, I don't know. But they don't get it from us. We keep a list, so we can make sure a patient's not already getting it from someone else, but we don't give it out to anyone… We took over (the program) from the feds three years ago. What they did with it, I don't know."

Ontario and British Columbia aside, Ottawa still does supervise methadone dispensation, through the Bureau of Drug Surveillance, an arm of Health Canada.

But at the BDS, too, there is a flat denial of any name-leaking.

"We've never given out the names of anybody on the methadone program, this I can assure you," said Amal Helal of the BDS's methadone program.

Whatever the truth, the suggestion that police are privy to patient's names disturbs methadone-dispensing physicians such as Toronto's Dr. Michael Lester.

"I'd be devastated. People come to me with the trust that I'm not going to breach their confidentiality. If I had been inadvertently been supplying their names to the police, it would be terrible destructive to the relationships I've built up with my clients.

"They've asked me many times: "Does my name go anywhere?"

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: October 8, 2000
Last modified: October 8, 2000
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