Federal civil rights office secures protection against discrimination for former opioid user

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR), a department within the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, has entered into an agreement with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (HHR) to ensure that those recovering from opioid use disorder are not discriminated against.

The voluntary resolution agreement stems from a complaint filed with the OCR in regards to a couple who were denied their application to adopt their nephew and niece because of the uncle’s use of Suboxone as part of his medication-assisted treatment for prescription opioid addiction.

The couple alleged that despite a favorable home study report, the West Virginia Bureau of Child and Family Services (BCF), a division of that state’s HHR, determined the aunt and uncle would not be an appropriate placement for the children because of the uncle’s use of Suboxone. BCF also declined to place the children in the home as part of a kinship option, even though the aunt would have been the primary caregiver and the uncle had not tested positive for any illegal drug use during his treatment, and subsequently stopped treatment altogether.

After an investigation, the OCR found that West Virginia had systemic deficiencies over its implementation of its disability rights policies, practices and procedures in regards to individuals in recovery from opioid use disorder. As a result, the state agreed to work with the federal agency to ensure it was in full compliance with its civil rights obligations.

“This civil rights action reflects the Trump Administration’s commitment to protecting the rights of Americans with disabilities and tackling substance use disorders as medical issues that respond to effective treatment,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Americans who are successfully receiving long-term treatment for opioid use disorder can lead normal lives which is why HHS has made it such a priority to expand access to medication-assisted treatment, boosting the number of Americans who receive it by more than 40 percent since President Trump took office. We commend West Virginia’s decision to revise its policies to protect the rights of families and children while continuing the state’s aggressive battle against the opioid crisis.”

The voluntary resolution agreement requires West Virginia to update its non-discrimination policies and procedures to emphasize that those with substance use disorder are entitled to their civil rights protections. The state will also create a new disability rights training plan that will specifically address how staff should work with those in recovery. OCR will monitor the state to ensure compliance as part of the agreement.

West Virginia will also notify the courts of the allegations, and the agreement with OCR, so the court may take those actions into consideration before making any final custody determinations for the children.

“The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Children and Families is happy to enter into this agreement regarding the use of medically assisted treatment for substance use disorder and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bill J. Crouch. “Along with behavioral therapy, the use of MAT provides effective treatment for opioid use disorders, enabling individuals struggling with addiction to reclaim their lives.”

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