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December 18, 2017
Contact: HHS Press Office
[email protected]

HHS highlights Office for Civil Rights' ongoing response to the opioid crisis, while implementing the 21st Century Cures Act

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today launched an array of new tools and initiatives in response to the opioid crisis, while implementing the 21st Century Cures Act (Public Law 114-255).  OCR continues its work to ensure that patients and their family members can get the information they need to prevent and address emergency situations, such as an opioid overdose or mental health crisis. At the same time, these tools and initiatives also fulfill requirements of the 21st Century Cures Act to ensure that the healthcare sector, researchers, patients, and their families understand how the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects privacy and helps improve health and healthcare nationwide.

“President Trump has mobilized the entire Administration to address America’s opioid crisis,” said Roger Severino, Director of OCR.  “HHS is using every tool at its disposal to help communities devastated by opioids including educating families and doctors on how they can share information to help save the lives of loved ones.”

Highlights of these actions include:

  • Two new HIPAA webpages focused on information related to mental and behavioral health, one for professionals and another for consumers.  These webpages reorganize existing guidance to make it more user-friendly and provide a one-stop resource for our new guidance and materials.  This guidance is an important step forward in clarifying the circumstances under which HIPAA permits a covered entity to disclose information to family members and caregivers.
  • These webpages contain new HIPAA guidance on sharing information related to mental health and substance use disorder treatment with a patient's family, friends and others involved in the patient's care or payment for care.  The new information includes: a package of fact sheets; an infographic; decision charts, including materials specifically tailored to the parents of children who have a mental health condition; and scenarios that address sharing information when an individual experiences an opioid overdose.
  • New collaboration with partner agencies within HHS to identify and develop model programs and materials for training healthcare providers, patients, and their families regarding permitted uses and disclosures of the protected health information of patients seeking or undergoing mental health or substance use disorder treatment, and to develop a plan to share the programs and materials with professionals and consumers.
  • Updated guidance on HIPAA and research, as called for in the Cures Act:  https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/special-topics/research/index.html
  • Launch of a working group to study and report on the uses and disclosures under HIPAA of protected health information for research purposes. The working group will include representatives from relevant federal agencies as well as researchers, patients, healthcare providers, and experts in healthcare privacy, security, and technology.  The working group will release a report addressing whether uses and disclosures of PHI for research purposes should be modified to facilitate research while protecting individuals’ privacy rights.

For additional information on HIPAA, visit:  https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/

Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other news materials are available at https://www.hhs.gov/news.
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Last revised: December 19, 2017

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