The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) published guidance on April 5, 2022 explaining how The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people who are in treatment or recovery for opioid use disorder (OUD), including those who take prescription medications as part of that treatment.

The guidance states that individuals in treatment or recovery from opioid use disorder are disabled under the ADA unless they are currently engaged in illegal drug use.  These individuals may be prescribed medications such as methadone, buprenorphine (Suboxone) or naltrexone, among others.  Employers may not discriminate against employees who are in treatment for OUD and who use such medications.  Additionally, employees with a past history of OUD have a “record of” a disability and are protected from discrimination.  The ADA also protects from discrimination those who have a known association or relationship with someone who has a disability such as OUD.

With regard to drug testing, the guidance states that although employers may test for illegal drug use, they may not terminate or deny employment to individuals legally using medication prescribed for OUD unless the use of such medication renders the individual unable to safely or effectively perform the job, or otherwise disqualifies them under another federal law.

In a press release, DOJ stated that “the publication is part of the department’s comprehensive response to the opioid crisis, which promotes prevention, enforcement and treatment.”  DOJ’s press release listed several lawsuits that the Civil Rights Division is pursuing as well as settlements obtained on behalf of individuals with OUD who were discriminated against due to their disability.

Employers should review their anti-discrimination policies and reasonable accommodation policies to ensure that supervisors are trained to recognize that recovering and recovered substance abusers are disabled and may request accommodations under the ADA and comparable state laws.