SOUTH PORTLAND — When Raymond Marley found out last week that the Rite Aid store in Mill Creek had closed its pharmacy, he drove two miles down Broadway, to the nearest Rite Aid, to refill a prescription.

But it didn’t happen. Marley’s information, and the rest of the pharmacy’s prescription records, had been sold to the pharmacy in the Hannaford supermarket in Mill Creek.

“I think they have some nerve,” Marley said this week, angry about what he considers a violation of his privacy. “Nobody told nobody anything. They should have given you the choice.”

A spokeswoman for Rite Aid said the drugstore chain was just trying to help by keeping the prescriptions in the same neighborhood. “It’s in the interest of our patients,” said Ashley Flower. “If there is not a Rite Aid immediately nearby and convenient, we want to make sure it’s easier on them.”

Pharmacies are allowed by state and federal laws to sell prescription records, and what happened in South Portland occurs routinely around the country. The practice also routinely raises questions about medical privacy and patients’ rights, said Dr. Deborah Peel, founder of Patient Privacy Rights, a national nonprofit advocacy group.

“It’s very upsetting to people,” Peel said. “There are no formal regulations yet about how people can be contacted for their permission to sell information such as prescriptions.”

The Rite Aid in Mill Creek closed its pharmacy Nov. 4. It is now in the final days of a liquidation sale on its cosmetics, stationery and other retail items. All 10 employees will be transferred to other stores, said Flower, who would not discuss reasons for the closure.

The store is two miles from a new, larger Rite Aid on Main Street. It also is across the street from a CVS pharmacy. The Hannaford supermarket is the next closest pharmacy.

Flower said Rite Aid sometimes transfers prescription records from closed stores to nearby Rite Aids. In other cases, it sells the records to a competitor that is closer to its customers. “That’s kind of a standard practice in the industry,” she said.

Flower said Rite Aid complied with all state and federal rules. It posted signs at the store about the transfer, and it put an ad in The Portland Press Herald.

“That’s how we notify our patients in Maine, as required,” she said.

State officials say Rite Aid notified the state as required. Rules do not require the company to get consent from customers.

Marley said he didn’t see any signs, or the ad. He said such after-the-fact notices aren’t enough, anyway. He should have been asked permission before the company sold his medical information, he said.

“Why should the people over at Hannaford have the right to look through my stuff?” Marley asked.

He said he won’t get his medications there because “I think a pharmacy in a drugstore is the way to do business.”

Neither Rite Aid nor Hannaford would disclose the purchase price of the prescription records or how many patients were affected.

Hannaford has signs on the front of its store welcoming Rite Aid customers.

“We have purchased pharmacy businesses before,” said Michael Norton, a spokesman for Hannaford. “(The information) is in a regulated pharmacy environment, just as it was before.”

Norton said such sales are allowed in part so that prescription records aren’t just abandoned when a pharmacy closes. But privacy advocates say the transfers are part of a larger problem.

“Congress actually doesn’t like the idea that personal health information is considered a corporate asset,” said Peel.

She said federal reforms are in the works to restrict sales of prescriptions and require customer consent.

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]