Protecting the privacy of those engaging in substance use disorder treatment

As the opioid and overdose crisis continues to claim countless lives, decision-makers across the country are desperately looking for solutions. The House of Representatives has passed a package of 58 bills designed to stem the tide of opioid addiction and overdose. Some of this legislation moves us in the right direction. Some of it will do incalculable damage.

One such harmful bill is the benignly and inaccurately named Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act (HR 6082). It would dismantle a federal rule called 42 CFR Part 2 that provides an extra layer of protection for substance use treatment records. Doing that would jeopardize the confidentiality of substance use treatment and discourage patients — both those with active substance use disorders and those like me living a life in recovery — from seeking and sustaining the care they need. It jeopardizes our recoveries and our futures.

  • Why is this important:
    Discrimination against people with substance use disorders is pernicious and pervasive. Unlike almost all other medical illnesses, substance use disorders are heavily stigmatized and overly criminalized in many parts of the United States. Disclosing one’s substance use history can mean disclosing previous illegal activity or putting parental rights on the line. It can also mean possibly losing employmenthousing, insurance coverage, and educational opportunities.
  • The Opposition:
    Supporters of the legislation include insurers, electronic health record vendors, and some hospital and medical associations. For them, the added layer of protection provided by Part 2 represents administrative nuisance, a technological inconvenience, and the loss of potentially lucrative health data. For people in treatment and recovery, Part 2 is often the only shield between us and the many devastating forms of stigma and discrimination we would face if our information was carelessly disclosed
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