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Legal Issues

Historically, substance abuse has been viewed as a crime rather than a chronic disease. While some drugs like alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs are considered licit (or legal), many commonly misused drugs are illicit, or illegal to purchase. Therefore, screening populations for substance abuse is accompanied by various legal implications and raises ethical concerns.

Federal law protects information about individuals' substance misuse. The Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records regulation provides statutory authority for the confidentiality of substance abuse patient records. This helps encourage people to seek treatment given they will not be discriminated against in their future endeavors. State law may also provide protection of medical and mental health information. The level of protection varies by state.

Resources to Learn More

Know Your Rights
This brochure provides information on rights under federal laws that protect individuals from discrimination due to alcohol or drug problems. It also highlights legal consequences of substance abuse related conduct and provides next steps for users to help overcome legal barriers and prevent violations of their rights.
Organization: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Date: 9/2004

Legal Action Center: Substance Use
The Legal Action Center has an Addiction and Substance Use Project that is designed to encourage prevention and treatment. The Center also works to combat discrimination through legal services. The site also provides information on policy advocacy, technical assistance for providers, trainings, and other resources.
Organization: Legal Action Center