OCR Starts Campaign to Increase Consciousness of Civil Rights Protections for Patients Being Treated for Opioid Use Disorder

October 31, 2018


On October 26, 2017, President Donald Trump announced the opioid disaster a national public health disaster. The one-year anniversary of that announcement has seen a new opioid bill initialed into law. On October 24, 2018, President Donald Trump added his signature to the Substance Use–Disorder Prevention that Encourages Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act – or “SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act” for short.

The Act will assist reinforce the government’s reaction to the opioid disaster, improve access to addiction treatment facilities, and increase data sharing in instances of opioid misuse.

There have been calls for modifications to be made to 42 CFR Part 2 to align the law with the HIPAA Secrecy Law and let the sharing of information regarding a patient’s substance abuse cure, without approval, for the purposes of cure, payment or healthcare operations.

The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act does go that far, even though the new law does allow information pertaining to opioid use illness and cure – and details of cure for misuse of other materials – to be shown on a patient’s medical record if approval is obtained from a patient.

The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act calls for the HHS to discuss with stakeholders and create best practices that include how that information can be conspicuously shown in a patient’s medical record, how approval must be obtained from patients, and the procedure and methods that must be used.

The stakeholders should include a patient with a history of opioid use illness, a specialist in the secrecy patient health information, an electronic health records expert, and a healthcare supplier. The best practices must be issued within a year of the passing of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Law.

After the signing of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Law, the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights started a public education campaign which emphasizes the efforts being made by the HHS to fight the opioid outbreak.

The campaign has two main objectives. First, OCR is trying to improve access to evidence-based opioid use illness cure and recovery facilities, including medication helped cure, for all people, irrespective of physical disability or their skill in English. The second objective is to raise the consciousness of civil rights safeguards that might apply to patients being cured for opioid use illness.

“People getting assistance for an opioid use illness are safeguarded by our civil rights rules throughout their cure and recovery,” said OCR Director, Roger Severino. “Discrimination, prejudice, and stereotypical views about people recuperating from an opioid addiction can result in needless and illegal barricades to health and social facilities that are key to tackling the opioid disaster.”

Particulars of the campaign can be found on the HHS website – – on this link. The web page contains fact sheets on Nondiscrimination and Opioid Use Illness and drug habit and federal disability rights laws.

OCR has also issued guidance for healthcare suppliers that explains how HIPAA allows the sharing of information on opioid patients without approval to assist patients suffering from an opioid disaster. The document clarifies when approval is not required and when approval must be obtained from patients before sharing information linked to opioid misuse and cure for opioid use disorder. The guidance – How HIPAA Allows Physicians to React to the Opioid Disaster – can be downloaded from OCR on this link (PDF).