The HHS Office for Civil Rights Responds to the Nation’s Opioid Crisis

Civil Rights and the Opioid Crisis

Learn about how federal nondiscrimination laws apply to opioid use disorder treatment and recovery services, including Medication Assisted Treatment: 

Fact Sheet 1: Nondiscrimination and Opioid Use Disorder

Fact Sheet 2:  Drug Addiction and Federal Disability Rights Laws

A patient and doctor discussing treatment options.

HHS Video Series on Federal Disability Rights Protections That Apply to Some Individuals in Recovery from an Opioid Use Disorder

As part of a shared commitment to ensuring protections from discrimination apply to all people, including those in treatment for or recovery from substance use disorders, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have partnered with the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare (NCSACW) to produce a video series, “Civil Rights Protections for Individuals in Recovery from an Opioid Use Disorder.”  The five-part series informs audiences about the application of federal disability rights laws to child welfare programs and activities, discusses protections that apply to some individuals in recovery from an opioid use disorder, provides an overview of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and addresses common misconceptions about MAT as a treatment approach.

The video series includes:

These resources provide needed training for personnel in the child welfare system on federal disability rights laws.  Intended audiences include but are not limited to: child welfare caseworkers, social workers, service providers, parent’s attorneys, agency attorneys, children’s attorneys, advocates, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), judges and judicial officers, Court Improvement Program personnel, Family Treatment Court personnel, substance use disorder treatment providers, and other child welfare stakeholders.  The videos also inform individuals in recovery about protections they may have under federal disability rights laws. View the complete video series.

HIPAA and the Opioid Crisis

Support from family members and friends is key to helping people struggling with opioid addiction, but their loved ones can’t help if they aren’t informed of the problem. Following President Trump’s call to action that led to the declaration of a nationwide public health emergency regarding the opioid crisis, the HHS Office for Civil Rights has released new guidance explaining when HIPAA permits healthcare providers and other covered entities to share a patient’s health information with loved ones and others involved in a patient’s care in these situations.


Doctor writing on prescription pad

The guidance explains:

  • Providers can share information with an individual patient's loved ones in certain emergency or dangerous situations, such as when the patient is in a crisis and incapacitated, or is facing a serious and imminent threat of harm.
  • Patients with decision-making capacity retain their right to decide when and whether their information will be shared, unless there is a serious and imminent threat of harm.
  • Patients' personal representatives, who have authority under state law tomake health care decsions for patients, may request and obtain information on behalf of patients.

Read the guidance here:  Guidance on Responding to an Opioid Overdose

For consumers, more information on HIPAA protections for mental health and substance use disorder treatment is available here:

For health professionals, more information on HIPAA and mental and behavioral health, including opioid overdose, is available here:

Content created by Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
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