Department of Justice Opioid Initiative Addresses Discriminatory Barriers to MAT

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division has launched an Opioid Initiative to remove discriminatory barriers to treatment in the criminal justice and child welfare systems, zoning, and elsewhere.  The initiative could be a game changer in reversing the widespread discrimination that blocks access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder.

According to a December 2017 announcement by Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division, DOJ will work with U.S. Attorney’s offices around the country to educate stakeholders about how anti-discrimination laws protect people with opioid use and other substance use disorders.  DOJ attorneys also have been speaking publicly on the issue.

In October 2017, the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York sent a letter to the New York State Office of Attorney General, explaining why courts that prohibit the use of MAT may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The letter gives clear examples of what may constitute illegal discrimination, such as –

“. . .  a court generally could not deny a parent visitation of her child by reason of the parent’s . . .  current use of MAT.  Nor could a court impose a blanket rule requiring parents to stop participating in MAT in order to gain custody of their children.”

DOJ’s October 2017 letter is consistent with the analysis in the Legal Action Center’s 2011 report, Legality of Denying Access to Medication-Assisted Treatment in the Criminal Justice System, and can be an excellent tool for individuals and their advocates to use when denied access to MAT.

The Legal Action Center (LAC) urges people who are denied access to MAT in the criminal justice or child welfare system and programs that face zoning discrimination to file complaints with DOJ at https://www.ada.gov/filing_complaint.htm.

More information about advocating for the right to MAT is available in the Legal Action Center’s MAT Advocacy Toolkit.  Also feel free to use LAC’s online intake form to help LAC track these practices, advocate for access to treatment, and offer back-up support to attorneys.

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