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OCR Launches Campaign to Raise Awareness of Civil Rights Protections for Patients Being Treated for Opioid Use Disorder

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

The Act will help strengthen the government’s response to the opioid crisis, improve access to addiction treatment services, and expand data sharing in cases of opioid abuse.

There have been calls for changes to be made to 42 CFR Part 2 to align the legislation with the HIPAA Privacy Rule and allow the sharing of information about a patient’s substance abuse treatment, without consent, for the purposes of treatment, payment or healthcare operations.

The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act does go that far, although the new law does allow information relating to opioid use disorder and treatment – and details of treatment for abuse of other substances – to be displayed on a patient’s medical record, if consent is obtained from a patient.

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The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act calls for the HHS to consult with stakeholders and develop best practices that cover how that information can be prominently displayed in a patient’s medical record, how consent should be obtained from patients, and the process and methods that should be used.

The stakeholders must include a patient with a history of opioid use disorder, an expert in the confidentiality patient health information, an electronic health records expert, and a healthcare provider. The best practices should be issued within a year of the passing of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act.

Following the signing of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights launched a public education campaign which highlights the efforts being made by the HHS to combat the opioid epidemic.

The campaign has two main goals. First, OCR is attempting to improve access to evidence-based opioid use disorder treatment and recovery services, including medication assisted treatment, for all people, regardless of physical disability or their proficiency in English. The second goal is to raise awareness of civil rights protections that may apply to patients being treated for opioid use disorder.

“Persons getting help for an opioid use disorder are protected by our civil rights laws throughout their treatment and recovery,” said OCR Director, Roger Severino. “Discrimination, bias, and stereotypical beliefs about persons recovering from an opioid addiction can lead to unnecessary and unlawful barriers to health and social services that are key to addressing the opioid crisis.”

Details of the campaign can be found on the HHS website – on this link. The web page includes fact sheets on Nondiscrimination and Opioid Use Disorder and drug addiction and federal disability rights laws.

OCR has also released guidance for healthcare providers that clarifies how HIPAA permits the sharing of information on opioid patients without consent to help patients suffering from an opioid crisis. The document explains when consent is not needed and when consent must be obtained from patients prior to sharing information related to opioid abuse and treatment for opioid use disorder. The guidance – How HIPAA Allows Doctors to Respond to the Opioid Crisis – can be downloaded from OCR on this link (PDF).

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.