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

Civil Rights and the Opioid Crisis

In October 2017, President Trump and HHS declared this nation’s opioid crisis, a "Public Health Emergency," and many HHS agencies have taken important steps to address drug addiction and opioid misuse.  One year after this declaration and in light of the president signing into law a bipartisan package of bills aimed at fighting the opioid crisis, OCR is launching a new campaign to inform the public about civil rights protections regarding evidence-based opioid use disorder treatment and recovery services.

Read an interview with OCR Director Roger Severino in the October 2018 OCR Civil Rights Division Newsletter. In the interview Director Severino discusses OCR’s response to the opioid crisis and the important nondiscrimination laws that may protect individuals with an opioid use disorder.

Watch the new OCR video on the Opioid Public Education campaign.

Read the press release about OCR launching the new public education campaign about OCR launching the new public education campaign concerning civil rights protections in response to the national opioid crisis. Press Release

Learn more 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.

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:  https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-individuals/mental-health/index.html

For health professionals, more information on HIPAA and mental and behavioral health, including opioid overdose, is available here: https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/special-topics/mental-health/index.html

Content created by Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
Content last reviewed on October 31, 2018