Congress Affirms that Addiction Treatment Confidentiality Protections Remain Essential

Bicameral Opioid Package will NOT include Proposed Changes to Part 2

September 26,2018: The Legal Action Center applauds the decision by Congress to drop language that would weaken addiction treatment confidentiality safeguards from the final opioid package.

SAMHSA revised the federal rules governing confidentiality and disclosures of substance use disorder patient records, known as 42 CFR Part 2 or “Part 2” in 2017 and 2018 in order to facilitate the sharing of substance use disorder (“SUD”) treatment information between providers and health care entities, while retaining key confidentiality and consent requirements.

The new bicameral opioid package will include support for educating clinicians, patients and families about those changes and opportunities to improve clinical care coordination within the framework provided. Specifically, the legislation provides model programs and materials for training health providers and compliance staff on the permitted uses and disclosures of substance use disorder information, and training family members and patients on their rights to protect and obtain substance use disorder information.

“We are very pleased that the conferees wisely recognized the importance of maintaining strong privacy and consent requirements for substance use disorder patients, and the need for greater education about the existing law” said Legal Action Center President Paul N. Samuels. He added “In the midst of the nation’s worst addiction epidemic in history, we must ensure that our policies encourage people to seek the care they need to get and stay well.”

Numerous provider associations, patient advocates, recovery organizations and privacy rights groups have been advocating against proposals to reduce Part 2 to the much weaker HIPAA standard, citing the increased risk of discrimination and negative consequences that could arise from disclosure of substance use history. Last week the American Medical Association joined its powerful voice to the chorus, warning that relaxing restrictions on patient privacy could prevent individuals with addiction from seeking medical treatment in the first place.

Unlike individuals with other illnesses or disabilities, SUD patients are vulnerable to arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. Additionally, many people with SUD are not protected by federal or state civil rights laws that protect people with disabilities from employment, housing and other types of discrimination.

The Executive Director of Faces & Voices of Recovery, Patty McCarthy Metcalf, adds: “We thank and applaud the leaders in the House and Senate who fought to protect the patients’ rights.”

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