Is Addiction Treatment Private?
It’s no secret that there is stigma against people who struggle with addition. It’s perhaps one of the main reasons why, despite 19 million Americans needing substance abuse treatment in 2018, only 964,000 felt they needed it.1 Fear of being stigmatized plays a role in not seeking treatment for some of these cases, with over 15% expressing concerns that seeking treatment could negatively impact their employment or how they are viewed in their communities.1 In brief, people want to keep their addiction, and their addiction treatment, private.
Addiction treatment is private and federal laws and regulations ensure the privacy of people who attend all treatment facilities, whether they are state-run or privately-owned addiction treatment centers.2
The goal of ensuring privacy is to help people feel safer going to treatment without fear of consequences.3 Federal privacy laws apply to all programs that receive federal, state, or local assistance in any form, such as direct funding, grants, reimbursement through state or federal insurance programs like Medicaid or Medicare, and programs that hold tax-exempt status or prescribe controlled substances.4
What Laws Protect My Privacy if I go to Treatment?
Federal laws protect the rights and privacy of people receiving treatment. These laws were enacted to reduce stigma by ensuring confidentiality, and thus reduce fears of consequences associated with seeking treatment. The two most relevant federal laws regarding substance use treatment are the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and 42 CFR Part 2.4, 6
HIPAA was enacted to ensure the privacy of what is known as protected health information (PHI) in all forms. This applies to written, verbal, or electronic information. HIPAA expressly states that historical, current, or future health information cannot be shared without consent from the patient, except in certain situations.4 Proper security measures must be in place to safeguard electronic health information.5 HIPAA also provides each person with rights over your PHI.
The second major privacy law is 42 CFR Part 2. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created 42 CFR Part 2 to address the confidentiality of substance use information. This law prevents programs or staff from revealing any substance use disorders associated with a patient unless the patient provides consent.4 The patient is required to provide consent even if the person making a request already knows the answer, can find it through another method, has a warrant or a subpoena, or has been granted authorization to access the information by the state. Even saying that someone is attending a substance use prevention or treatment program is a violation of this law.
Treatment often involves overlap between HIPAA and 42 CFR Part 2 and may include state law as well. The regulation that affords the most protection of privacy to the patient should be followed.However, there are some exceptions to which disclosures can be made without consent from the patient:3, 4, 6
- If there is a medical emergency and the patient is unable to consent.
- If the patient is at risk of harming themselves or someone else.
- In cases of suspected child abuse or neglect.
- When ordered to by the court.
- If a program participant commits a crime while on program property, or against a staff member.
Consent must be written and meet certain criteria to be valid. It can be revoked by the patient at any time. It must specify:3
- The person or organization sharing and receiving the information.
- Why the information is required.
- The specific information being transmitted.
- An explanation that the consent can be revoked at any time.
- When the consent form will expire if it isn’t revoked prior to that date.
- The patient’s signature (and legal guardian, if needed) and the date of signature.
If the consent form does not include all of these elements, it is not valid. If the patient wishes to revoke their consent, they need not do so in writing.3
How to Maintain Employment While You’re at Treatment
Since addiction is recognized as a disease, you may be able to use medical leave to maintain your employment while receiving treatment. If you plan to take medical leave, your job has the right to request medical documentation.7 For your doctor to release information to your employer stating that you will be attending private addiction treatment, you will need to complete a consent form under privacy and confidentiality laws.
Provided that the proper conditions are met, going for addiction treatment can be a covered condition for medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).8 FMLA allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a year in which a person can seek treatment for a serious medical condition without any risk of losing their job or their health insurance coverage.9 An employee cannot be terminated for attending treatment for a substance use disorder, as this would constitute discrimination. However, if an employee was involved in behavior that violated company policy before seeking treatment, such as using while at work, they can legally be terminated while on leave.
What’s the Next Step in Getting Treatment?
If you aren’t sure whether it’s time to take the next step toward getting treatment, you can start by asking yourself two questions.
- Are you or someone you love struggling with alcohol or drug use?
- Are drugs or alcohol becoming an overwhelming part of your life?
If you answered yes to either of these questions, it is most likely a good time to ask for help.
Finding the Best Addiction Treatment
American Addiction Centers has worked hard to become one of the top providers of substance use disorder treatment in the United States. By providing effective treatment and mental health care, they are committed to helping many people across the country through their network of 8 facilities in various states.
The states that host an American Addiction Centers facility are:
American Addiction Centers takes your privacy and confidentiality very seriously. Your PHI is protected under federal regulations.
How American Addiction Centers Can Help
American Addiction Centers (AAC) treats substance use disorders by addressing the underlying causes that contribute to the development and maintenance of addictions. AAC’s medically-informed, patient-centric treatment is tailored for each individual. As stated, American Addiction Centers complies with HIPAA, so you can rest assured that your medical information will be protected.
Still Unsure About Seeking Treatment?
While we’ve hopefully managed to soothe any feelings of unease about privacy and employment, you may have other concerns about receiving addiction treatment. The medical procedures may be unnerving if you’re not sure what to expect. Generally, addiction treatment will have three major components:
Learning about addiction and treatment options may feel overwhelming. If you are still unsure about how treatment works, how to ask for help, or how to get treatment, consider the following guides:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality.
- American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2020). Confidentiality (42 CFR part-2).
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2000). Substance abuse treatment for persons with child abuse and neglect issues. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 36. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Legal Action Center. Patient privacy and confidentiality in the changing health care environment.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Your rights under HIPAA.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Substance abuse confidentiality regulations.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2017). Employers and health information in the workplace.
- U.S. Department of Labor. Family and medical leave advisor.
- U.S. Department of Labor. Family and medical leave act.