Recovery Strategies, LLC is a Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) Program. MAT is defined as, the use of FDA-approved medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of substance abuse disorders.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) DHHS Publication 09-4449 (2009), it is illegal for criminal and family courts to discriminate against people because they are in MAT. Federal civil rights laws protect qualified “individuals with disabilities” from discrimination in many areas of life. People in recovery from drug addiction including those in MAT at Recovery Strategies, LLC generally are protected from discrimination by the following statues:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • Fair Housing Act (FHA)
  • Workforce Investment Act (WIA)

WHO IS PROTECTED?

The non-discrimination laws mentioned above protect individuals with a “disability.” Most often, people in MAT are considered individuals with a “disability.”

Why? Under these Federal laws, an individual with a “disability” is someone who –

  • Has a current “physical or mental impairment” that “substantially limits” one or more of that person’s “major life activities,” such as caring for one’s self, working, etc., or
  • Has a record of such a substantially limiting impairment, or
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

Addiction to opioids is an impairment that can and does, for many people, substantially limit a major life activity. For this reason, many courts have found that people in MAT have a record of an impairment. The same analysis 6 applies to buprenorphine. Many people also regard people in MAT as having a substantially limiting impairment.

WHO IS NOT PROTECTED?

People who currently engage in the illegal use of drugs are not protected under these non-discrimination laws. For instance, if Elias – from the previous example – was using cocaine while in MAT, if his cocaine use was the basis of the employer’s decision to fire him, he would not be protected by these nondiscrimination laws. But note that even though Federal anti-discrimination laws generally do not protect individuals who are currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs, they do protect such individuals from discrimination by health care providers. For example, if Elias was using cocaine while in MAT, it would be illegal for a health care provider to deny him surgery or dental care just because he was an illegal drug user.

HOW DO THESE PROTECTIONS WORK?

Discrimination means treating someone less favorably than someone else because he or she has a disability, once had a disability, or is regarded – even erroneously – as having a disability. MAT treats a chronic disease – addiction – using legally-prescribed medications. It is discrimination for employers, landlords, government agencies, and health care and treatment providers to 7 treat people less favorably because they are in MAT. It is also discrimination to treat people in MAT differently than people who are prescribed medication to treat other disabilities, such as people prescribed insulin for diabetes or people with high cholesterol who are prescribed cholesterol-lowering medication.

Treating someone less favorably for reasons other than the person’s disability, however, is generally not illegal discrimination. For example, it is not illegal discrimination to deny a person a job, services, or admission to a program because that person –

  • Does not meet essential eligibility requirements.
  • Creates a direct threat to health or safety by his/her behavior. Simply being in MAT does not pose any health or safety threat.
  • Violates the rules of a workplace, housing facility, or other program or commits a crime, including a drug-related crime, when that misconduct would cause anyone to be disciplined, evicted, or excluded.

GOVERNMENT ACTIVITIES, BENEFITS, AND SERVICES

The ADA and Rehabilitation Act protect a person in MAT from discrimination by the government in its –

  • Services – such as health or social services and education and training programs
  • Benefit programs – like welfare or child care assistance and other forms of financial assistance, such as student loans
  • Activities – like probation and parole, zoning, occupational licensing, and driver’s licensing

If an individual is “qualified” – meaning the individual meets the eligibility requirements of the program or activity involved – the individual may not be denied the opportunity to participate in or be denied benefits from these and other public services, benefit programs or governmental activities because of a disability. Additionally, individuals in MAT may not be treated less favorably than other individuals simply because they are participating in MAT.

FAQs

Child Welfare or Family Court Systems

Q: May judges, prosecuting attorneys, and others in the child welfare system require parents to end their participation in MAT in order to get their children back or to keep their children?

A: No. Courts and other government agencies may not single out people in MAT and require them to stop taking legally prescribed medications. Such a requirement would be no different than telling an insulin-dependent, diabetic parent that she may not have her children back unless she stops taking insulin and addresses her diabetes through nutrition and exercise alone. Courts may, however, require people in MAT to comply with treatment requirements.

Probation and Parole

Q: May a probation or parole officer or court require individuals to end their participation in MAT as a condition of their compliance with parole or probation?

A: No. As in the child welfare system, probationers and parolees in MAT may not be singled out for different treatment solely because of their participation in MAT.

Driver’s License

Q: May a department of motor vehicles require an individual charged with DUI to end his participation in MAT in order to get his license reinstated?

A: No. Requiring an individual to end his participation in MAT – and perhaps to attend a drug treatment program that does not use medication – violates Federal anti-discrimination laws. Note, however, that Federal regulations pertaining to the issuance of commercial drivers licenses do disqualify individuals in MAT. Though these rules might appear to conflict with Federal anti-discrimination laws, they are enforceable because of the rules concerning conflicting Federal laws. Despite the protections outlined above, some government entities do discriminate. For information about what to do when faced with such discrimination in the child welfare and criminal justice systems, read the brochure, Educating Courts and Other Government Agencies About Methadone, written by the Legal Action Center and available on the Legal Action Center’s Web site, http://lac.org/index.php/lac/130 Commercial Drivers Licenses. Regulations implemented by the Federal Highway Administration of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) disqualify individuals from receiving an interstate commercial driver’s license if they are taking methadone. Consequently, it is not illegal discrimination for DOT to deny an interstate commercial driver’s license to someone because of their participation in MAT. The regulations do not address buprenorphine. Commercial driver’s licenses for intrastate (within one State) driving are determined by State laws, which may vary.

DISCLAIMER

The information provides general guidance on the legal rights of individuals with alcohol and drug problems. It is not intended to serve as legal advice for any particular case involving or potentially involving discrimination. If you believe you have been subjected to illegal discrimination, you should immediately consult with an attorney or seek assistance from a Federal agency responsible for addressing discrimination complaints or administering the program or benefits at issue.