Laws on drug mules leave doctors conflicted

Details were published today on the case of a  South-East Asian man found with drugs in his small bowel when treated for nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea at The Alfred hospital in Melbourne.

The objects found were consistent with ‘body packing’ – drugs stored in rubber or latex packaging and swallowed – said emergency physicians Dr Biswadev Mitra and Dr de Villiers Smit.

Dr Mitra said most drug mules requiring medical attention were brought to hospitals by law enforcement officers.

However, those rarer cases discovered first by emergency departments were difficult to report to authorities because of legal obligations around patient confidentiality, Dr Mitra said.

This left many doctors exposed to the risk of legal action for breach of privacy laws.

He said doctors needed to weigh up whether considerations including danger to the public outweighed legal concerns surrounding patient confidentiality, by

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