The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has begun a national Opioid Initiative to remove discriminatory barriers to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and has stated that denying access to MAT can violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). “Our office is committed to protecting the rights of people with disabilities, which includes those in treatment for an Opioid Use Disorder,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling in a May 2018 letter.
People denied access to MAT can point to these DOJ actions to persuade judges, case workers, jails, prisons, or others to permit MAT. The Legal Action Center also encourages people who are denied access to MAT to file a complaint with DOJ. For more information, visit Advocating for Your Recovery When Ordered Off Addiction Medication.
DOJ’s analysis is consistent with LAC’s groundbreaking analysis in its 2011 report, Legality of Denying Access to Medication-Assisted Treatment in the Criminal Justice System.
DOJ Actions to Remove Discriminatory Barriers to MAT
DOJ’s actions to remove discriminatory barriers to MAT in the child welfare system, criminal justice system, and in health care are described below. Even people living in other states can point to these DOJ actions.
1. State courts may not deny child custody or visitation to someone solely on the basis of MAT.
The U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York sent a letter to the New York Attorney General’s office, explaining why courts that prohibit MAT as a condition of child custody or visitation may be discriminating in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- S.D.N.Y. Letter to New York Attorney General (October 2017)
2. Skilled nursing facilities may not deny admission to a patient solely on the basis of MAT.
The U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts entered into a settlement agreement with a skilled nursing facility in Norwood, MA. DOJ found that the facility engaged in illegal discrimination by refusing to accept a patient solely because the patient received Suboxone to treat an opioid use disorder.
3. Investigation of prisons that deny access to MAT.
The U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts sent a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC), concerning DOJ’s investigation into whether state prisons are violating the Americans with Disabilities Acts by denying access to MAT to individuals with opioid use disorder who were receiving MAT when entering prison.
4. Medical practice may not refuse new patients because they receive buprenorphine.
The U.S. Department of Justice entered into a settlement agreement with a family medical practice in Westchester, Virginia, which regularly turned away prospective new patients who are treated with narcotic controlled substances such as Suboxone. DOJ found that the practice engaged in illegal discrimination by refusing to accept the Complainant as a patient solely because he takes Suboxone to treat an opioid use disorder.
- DOJ Settlement Agreement with Selma Medical (Jan. 2019)
This page will be updated periodically with additional news of DOJ’s actions through its Opioid Initiative. The information here is current as of January 31, 2019.