MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Drug companies at odds with the state of Vermont over the collection of information about doctors' prescription-writing habits are getting support in a legal battle pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Patient groups, two former secretaries of the Department of Health and Human Services and more than 50 organizations, including The Associated Press, have filed 16 friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Supreme Court to reject Vermont's law that limits the use of information collected about physicians' prescription practices.

"The broad and diverse voices of respected health care stakeholders and thought leaders clearly show that Vermont failed to recognize the vital importance of this information, the principles of transparency and its contribution to improving patient care and reducing health care costs," said Harvey Ashman, a vice president for IMS Health.

Last month, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said a bipartisan group of 35 states and other organizations were backing the state in the case.

At issue is the state law that restricts what pharmacies can do with information they collect about drugs prescribed by doctors. The information includes the name, dosage and quantity of the drug but not the name of the patient.

Vermont officials say drug companies use the information as a "covert marketing tool." They believe restricting it helps protect medical privacy and control health care costs by promoting generic drugs.

A number of drug companies sued. In November, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York said Vermont's law was a restriction on commercial free speech. Vermont appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear the case on April 26.