The federal Department of Justice has ordered repeatedly that people in treatment or recovery on medications to treat opioid use disorder are protected by the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). This spring, the federal government issued guidance specifying this, and noting that entities covered by the ADA include the workplace, healthcare organizations, and the criminal justice and other government systems.
Focusing on the specifics – buprenorphine and, especially methadone – is the only way to prevent discrimination against people who take these medications. The ADA made it clear that anyone in recovery from substance use disorder in the case of an illicit substance, as long as they were in recovery, were still protected. Recovery includes taking methadone or buprenorphine. (The ADA also, in a move that was purely political, protected people who are currently using legal substances, such as alcohol, even if they have a disorder.)
The guidance document, “The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Opioid Crisis: Combating Discrimination Against People in Treatment or Recovery,” explains how the ADA protects people. “The opioid epidemic continues to pose an extraordinary challenge to communities across our country, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this crisis,” said Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “People who have stopped illegally using drugs should not face discrimination when accessing evidence-based treatment or continuing on their path of recovery,” said Ms. Clarke. “The Justice Department is committed to using federal civil rights laws such as the ADA to safeguard people with opioid use disorder from facing discriminatory barriers as they move forward with their lives.”
Below are examples of how the Civil Rights Division has worked to ensure people in treatment and recovery can participate in their communities in the workforce:
- On March 25, the department issued a letter finding that the Indiana State Board of Nursing violated the ADA by denying a nurse the opportunity to participate in a substance use disorder rehabilitation program because she takes medication for OUD. The program is required for the individual to reinstate her nursing license.
- On March 24, the department into a Settlement Agreement with the Massachusetts Trial Court to resolve allegations that its drug court violated the ADA by discriminating against individuals with OUD.
- On March 17, the department entered into a Settlement Agreement with Ready to Work, a Colorado-based employment, residential and social services program for individuals experiencing homelessness, resolving allegations that the program denied admission to an individual because she takes medication for OUD.
- On Feb. 24, the department filed a lawsuit against the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, alleging that it prohibits or otherwise limits participants in its court supervision programs from using medication to treat OUD.
For the guidance, go to https://www.ada.gov/opioid_guidance.pdf