Opioid Recovery Gets Bump With DOJ Disability Protection Guide

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The Justice Department’s declaration that people recovering from opioid use disorder are legally protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act marks a critical step in lifting stigmas and encouraging them to seek treatment, addiction specialists say.

People recovering from opioid use disorder and not illegally using drugs are protected from health-care, employment, and other discrimination under DOJ guidance announced Tuesday. It’s part of a broader agency push to cut down on barriers for individuals in treatment and comes amid an all-time high for overdoses.

The DOJ’s guidance “doesn’t change the law but it does send a message that DOJ will enforce the law,” said Regina LaBelle, former acting director of the Biden administration’s Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“It signals that DOJ is serious about protecting the rights of individuals in recovery from a substance use disorder, and most specifically, protecting the rights of individuals to receive medications for opioid use disorder,” LaBelle said.

The Obama administration’s ONDCP—where LaBelle was chief of staff—worked with the DOJ to put language in grant programs ensuring people weren’t required to stop taking their medication as a condition for participating in drug courts.

Now the stage is set for more people struggling with addiction to secure treatment with less fear of blowback from various facets of society.

“We’ve known for several years that ADA enforcement was an underutilized tool and with this guidance, DOJ is sending a strong message,” LaBelle said. “We still have too many barriers to evidence based care for people with substance use disorder. The federal government is working to remove these barriers and DOJ’s recent action will hopefully spur more action.”

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