This week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) published its October 2018 newsletter, which focuses on drug addiction — specifically the opioid crisis in healthcare. The article features an interview with OCR Director Roger Severino to discuss how the OCR is addressing opioid misuse and addiction and how covered entities can join in on the fight to get medical treatment to those addicted to opioids.
Below are some key takeaways from the interview:
#1 The OCR Launched a New Public Education Campaign to Improve Access to Treatment for Opioid Use
In 2017, the HHS declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. The OCR has responded to this call to action by launching a new public education campaign aimed to improve access to evidence-based treatment and recovery services for opioid use disorder, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT). OCR has also released guidance explaining when HIPAA permits healthcare providers and other covered entities to have a patients’ health information shared with loved ones and others involved in patient care.
#2 Drug Addiction is a Disability Under Federal Disability Rights Laws
Drug addiction is a disability under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the American Disabilities Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. Under these laws, qualified individuals with a disability may not be excluded from participation in programs and services, be denied the benefit of, or otherwise subjected to discrimination based on the disability.
#3 The OCR’s Public Education Campaign Also Aims to Help Friends and Family of Those Suffering from Opioid Use Disorder
The first goal of the OCR’s campaign is to improve access to evidence-based opioid treatment by informing covered entities about their civil rights and obligations under the law. The second goal is to educate the public about civil rights protections that may apply to persons in recovery from an opioid addiction. OCR also launched a website which serves as a “one-stop shop” for information that highlights both civil rights and HIPAA work in this area.
What Can Care Providers Do to Help Those Addicted to Opioids?
#1. Review the new fact sheets published by OCR on compliance best practices: The OCR released fact sheets on best practices intended to help covered entities ensure that individuals who primarily speak a language other than English have meaningful access to critical health and human services programs. This is to ensure that opioid use disorder treatment programs are accessible, for example, to personas with physical or mobility issues.
#2. Detect and treat those addicted to opioids in their own facility
The opioid epidemic not only effects patients in a healthcare facility, but it is also driving instances of drug diversion. Care workers can easily become addicted to opioids due to their proximity and availability to prescription drugs. This is becoming a federal issue, as the DEA and the DOJ have ramped up efforts to catch those engaging in drug diversion. In 2018, this focus resulted in 28 arrests, 54 enforcement actions, and 283 administrative actions. To remain compliant, care providers need to create a drug diversion monitoring program to help identify drug diversion in their facility and to rehabilitate addicts who have become addicted to these powerful drugs.
The opioid epidemic effects millions of people each year, with 2.1 million people afflicted with opioid use disorder and 116 deaths each day involving prescription opioids. Opioid addiction does not discriminate and can afflict both patients and care workers alike. Moving forward, the HHS OCR is committed to breaking down discriminatory barriers in health and human services programs to get people the help and support they need to treat addiction. Care providers can help by providing the resources for rehabilitation for any person(s) addicted to opioids.