Skip to main content

Legal Issues

Historically, substance use disorder 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 use disorders 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 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

Legal Action Center: Substance Use
The Legal Action Center has an Addiction and Substance Use Project that is designed to encourage prevention and treatment of substance use disorders. 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