Discrimination based on opioid treatment violates the law

A worsening opioid epidemic prompts the US Department of Justice to warn of discrimination against those prescribed drugs to treat their addiction.

In guidelines released Tuesday, the department’s civil rights division said employers, health care providers, law enforcement who operate prisons and others violate the Americans with Disabilities Act if they discriminate against people who take prescription drugs to treat opioid use disorder.

“Individuals who have quit illegal drug use should not face discrimination when accessing evidence-based treatment or continuing on their path to recovery,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement.

The national drug overdose crisis has intensified in recent years. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last year that more than 100,000 people had died from drug overdoses over a 12-month period, the highest level on record.

Most of the deaths are related to opioids, which include prescription painkillers, morphine, heroin and potent lab-made drugs like fentanyl that are often mixed with other illegal drugs.

Public health experts say increasing the availability and acceptance of drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction is key to reducing the crisis. But these drugs – which are themselves opioids – have long been stigmatized.

Department of Justice guidelines state that substance abuse is considered a disability under the ADA. The department says they do not represent a change in policy, but rather clarify existing requirements.

The guidelines give examples of possible offences: a doctor’s office denying care to patients receiving treatment for opioid addiction; a city refusing to allow a treatment facility if opposition is based on residents’ hostility to people with addictions; a prison prohibiting inmates from taking prescribed drugs to block opioid addiction.

In February, the department sued the Pennsylvania court system, alleging it prohibited or restricted the use of drugs to treat opioid use disorder. In a filing, Pennsylvania officials said they had taken steps to “raise awareness in the few low-key judicial districts involved.”

The United States reached a settlement with Massachusetts courts last month over similar allegations, prompting the courts to change their practices.

Last month, the government also reached an agreement with Ready to Work, a Colorado agency that provides services to homeless people. He was accused of denying admission to a potential participant because she was taking medication for opioid use disorder. In addition to ending the discrimination, Ready to Work was to pay $7,500 to the person who complained.

The department also sent a letter in March to the Indiana State Board of Nursing regarding its decision to remove a nurse from a compulsory licensing program for her use of drugs to treat addiction. A board spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

The Justice Department document notes that federal law does not protect people who use illegal drugs. A drug rehabilitation program, for example, would not violate the law if it expelled a participant who continued to regularly use drugs.


But the guidelines say someone who uses legally prescribed opioids to treat pain cannot be fired for doing so.

“The Department of Justice is committed to using federal civil rights laws such as the ADA to protect people with opioid use disorders from discriminatory barriers as they move forward in their lives. life,” Clarke said.

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