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WASHINGTON — The on-the-ground groups targeting the opioids crisis almost universally support Washington’s efforts to direct more resources and flexibility toward their work. But a new coalition is cautioning that one proposed federal change — supported both by lawmakers and the Trump administration’s opioid commission — could actually hurt the people they’re all trying to help.

At the center of the controversy: an effort to relax federal privacy rules for substance abuse treatments.  The commission, led by Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), along with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, has suggested that relaxing those rules could ensure that doctors don’t prescribe opioids to patients who suffer from an opioid addiction they haven’t disclosed. The commission and some lawmakers have also suggested a need to relax those and other federal privacy rules to let doctors notify a family member when a person overdoses.  

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  • I share the critique. On an ideological level I would argue that addiction should not mean that at individual should lose his or her right to privacy. Would we consider taking away that right from people who have other illnesses, disabilities, pain or life struggles? On a practical level, if people can’t count on health care providers to protect their privacy then they may avoid getting care that they need. Addiction does not define an individual’s entire being. Addicts and non-addicts alike experience all kinds of health problems. We should never put people in a position where they can’t or won’t access care because they are afraid that health care providers will betray their private information to law enforcement or even to their families.
    I know that not everyone will see it this way, but to me there is a parallel here to old (and sometimes new) laws that required or allow health care providers to tell a woman’s parents or husband that she has requested contraception or an abortion.
    As a national consensus regarding the need for accessible and available treatment for addiction grows, we need to be vigilant that treatment doesn’t become another stick to beat people with.

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