January 2, 2024
Source: Justice Department
The Justice Department filed a statement of interest today [December 11, 2023] explaining how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to the provision of medications for opioid use disorder (OUD) in jails and prisons. The statement of interest was filed in Strickland v. Delaware County, a lawsuit pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleging that a county jail violated the ADA by denying an individual access to methadone that was medically necessary to treat his OUD.
“People held in our nation’s jails and prisons, including those with substance use disorders, do not surrender their civil rights at the jailhouse door,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The ADA requires that jails and prisons individually assess the medical needs of people with disabilities and not categorically deny access to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved OUD medications that many need to effectively treat their disability. The Justice Department will continue to enforce federal civil rights laws to ensure the rights of people with disabilities are protected.”
“My office is dedicated to fighting the opioid epidemic with every tool that we have,” said U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “That includes enforcing the ADA to remove discriminatory barriers to treatment for OUD. Today’s statement of interest reminds jails and prisons about their obligations to address the needs of individuals with OUD and comply with the ADA.”
The Strickland lawsuit alleges that the George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, unlawfully denied an incarcerated person access to methadone that he was taking to treat OUD under the supervision of a qualified medical provider before his incarceration. The lawsuit also alleges that the jail had a policy of providing methadone only for pregnant individuals and requiring all other individuals who were on methadone when entering the jail to undergo medically supervised withdrawal.
Through the statement of interest, the department explains that the ADA prohibits jails from categorically restricting access to FDA-approved OUD medications, like methadone, without individually assessing whether the person being denied access needs that medication to effectively treat their disability. The statement then sets out why this is required by the ADA and its regulations and aligns with broad consensus in the medical community, including the FDA and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The ADA prohibits state and local governments from discriminating against individuals with disabilities and protects people in recovery from OUD, including individuals who are taking OUD medication at the direction of a medical provider.
The Justice Department’s submission of this statement of interest furthers its broader efforts to combat discrimination against individuals with OUD and to remove discriminatory barriers to treatment. The Justice Department has issued public guidance on the ADA’s protections for those with OUD. It has entered into multiple settlements with jails and prisons to increase access to OUD medication, including recent agreements in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania; Eastern Kentucky; and Massachusetts. It has undertaken enforcement efforts to combat discrimination against individuals with OUD in court supervision programs in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. It has also entered numerous settlements to address discriminatory barriers to treatment for OUD outside of the criminal justice context, including barriers related to employment, professional licensing, social services and healthcare.
The Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Section filed this statement of interest in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
For more information about the Justice Department’s work to address discrimination against individuals with opioid use disorder, please visit www.ada.gov/topics/opioid-use-disorder. For more information on the Civil Rights Division, please visit www.justice.gov/crt. For more information on the ADA, please call the department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 1-800-514-0301 (TTY 1-833-610-1264) or visit www.ada.gov. If you believe you have been discriminated against based on disability and wish to file a complaint, please visit www.ada.gov/file-a-complaint.