HHS OCR Launches Public Education Campaign on Nondiscrimination and the Opioid Crisis

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In response to the national opioid crisis, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has launched a public education campaign on the civil rights protections surrounding access to treatment for opioid addiction.

“Persons getting help for an opioid use disorder are protected by our civil rights laws throughout their treatment and recovery,” says Roger Severino, OCR Director. “Discrimination, bias, and stereotypical beliefs about persons recovering from an opioid addiction can lead to unnecessary and unlawful barriers to health and social services that are key to addressing the opioid crisis.”

As a part of this effort, OCR has prepared several educational guidance documents, including an interview with OCR Director Roger Severino on the topic, a Fact Sheet on “Nondiscrimination and Opioid Use Disorder,” and a Fact Sheet on “Drug Addiction and Federal Disability Rights Law.” These documents make clear that “drug addiction, including an addiction to opioids, is a disability under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act . . . and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, when the drug addiction substantially limits a major life activity.”

Healthcare providers should therefore carefully consult these new guidance materials to ensure that their patient populations do not face discriminatory burdens in accessing treatment for opioid use disorders or are otherwise discriminated against on account of such a disorder.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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