Opioid Use Disorder
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people in recovery from opioid use disorder (OUD) who are not engaging in illegal drug use, including those who are taking medication prescribed by their doctor to treat their OUD.
Employers, businesses that are open to the public, and state/local government programs cannot discriminate against people with OUD who are not currently illegally using drugs.
This page provides some basic information about OUD and the ADA’s protections for people with OUD. You can learn more about this topic at The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Opioid Crisis.
About Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)
What is OUD?
OUD is a specific kind of substance use disorder. Individuals with OUD have a pattern of opioid use that leads to significant issues, such as health problems and difficulty meeting major responsibilities at home, work, or school. OUD can involve the use of illegal opioids (for example, heroin) or prescription opioids (for example, oxycodone).
Is OUD a disability?
For many people, OUD is a disability under the ADA’s definition because it is a drug addiction that substantially limits a major life activity. For example, OUD can affect a person’s:
- Ability to take care of themselves
Using opioids can also change a person’s brain chemicals. Learn more about how OUD can meet the ADA’s definition of disability at The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Opioid Crisis.
What kind of treatment is there for OUD?
- Rehabilitation or Drug Treatment Programs: Some people participate in rehabilitation or drug treatment programs for OUD.
- Medication for OUD (MOUD): Some individuals use medication for OUD prescribed by a licensed medical professional to help them in recovery. When people take MOUD in addition to participating in counseling and other behavioral therapies, it is called medication assisted treatment (MAT).
The ADA Protects Individuals with OUD
The ADA is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in everyday activities. The ADA guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to enjoy employment opportunities, participate in state and local government programs, and purchase goods and services.
The ADA protects people with disabilities from discrimination in many settings, including:
- Social services agencies
- Child welfare agencies
- Prisons and jails
- Medical facilities, including hospitals, doctors’ offices, and skilled nursing facilities
- Homeless shelters
- Schools, colleges, and universities
Exception: Illegal Drug Use
The ADA does NOT protect individuals who are currently illegally using drugs. This includes illegal drug use that was recent enough to support a reasonable belief that the use is current or that continuing use is a real and ongoing problem. Learn more about what current illegal drug use means at The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Opioid Crisis.
- Taking MOUD or other opioids legally prescribed by a doctor for a valid purpose is not considered to be current illegal drug use when they are taken as directed.
Examples of Discrimination against Individuals with OUD
There are many kinds of discrimination against individuals with OUD that can be illegal under the ADA. Here are a few examples:
- A doctor’s office or medical facility refuses to admit a patient because they take MOUD.
- A jail does not allow incoming inmates to continue taking MOUD prescribed before their detention.
- A town refuses to allow a treatment center for people with OUD to open because its residents do not want “those kind of people” in their area.
- An employer fires an employee because it finds out the employee completed treatment for a previous addiction to prescription opioids.
- An employer fires an employee because it mistakenly believes the employee has OUD, simply because the employee uses opioids legally prescribed by a doctor to treat pain from an injury.
Read more about potential discrimination against individuals with OUD at The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Opioid Crisis.
The ADA permits reasonable policies or procedures, including drug testing, designed to ensure that individuals are not engaging in the illegal use of drugs. However, in most cases, an employer cannot refuse to hire you, fire you, or take other negative actions because your drug test shows you are taking MOUD or an opioid legally prescribed by your doctor for a valid purpose.
Learn more about employment and OUD at The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Opioid Crisis, or visit the EEOC’s website.