Law Firm Malpractice

Opioid Discrimination Lawyers: Federal Agencies Step Up Enforcement of Drug Discrimination Laws

As the opioid crisis continues to affect millions of Americans, federal agencies have begun to step up their enforcement of laws protecting people from discrimination based on their drug use. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has reached agreements with or filed suits against institutions in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Rhode Island for allegedly discriminating against job applicants or employees because they were taking medications to treat their substance use disorder (SUD). The pace of these cases is picking up, and they can serve as important reminders that many employers, public accommodations, and state and local government programs cannot discriminate against people based on their prescription-based SUD treatment.

Many of these cases involve workers in the health care, transportation, criminal legal, and family regulation child welfare systems who are compelled by court or other government orders to stop taking their doctor-prescribed medication for SUD, such as buprenorphine and methadone. In some of these cases, the workers have been fired or otherwise discriminated against for refusing to take their prescribed medication. Others have been denied admission to recovery homes and skilled nursing facilities. Despite the evidence showing that SUD medications are safe and effective, individuals who receive them can be stigmatized in all these settings.

This is a big problem because the ADA requires that workplaces, other public accommodations, and government programs provide reasonable accommodation for qualified disabled individuals. The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, such as working or engaging in recreational activities. Medical conditions that cause pain, including chronic pain related to a prior injury or surgery, often qualify as disabilities under the ADA, and prescription opioids are frequently used to manage pain.

The new guidance published today by the Civil Rights Division outlines how the ADA applies to SUD and aims to help employers, public accommodations, and state and local governments understand their obligations under the law. It also helps to make it clear that it is illegal to discriminate against a person with a disability because they are in treatment or recovery, and that this includes those who have been medically cleared by their doctors to continue taking their MAT.

This guidance is the latest step in a larger effort by federal agencies to amplify and expand the work of the civil rights enforcement teams, arm individuals with crucial Know Your Rights information, and empower communities nationwide to enhance their anti-discrimination efforts. Our firm’s opioid discrimination lawyers are proud to have played a role in this important initiative, and we look forward to continuing to advocate for the rights of those seeking or in recovery from SUD, as well as those who must continue to access their prescribed treatment.

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