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New Guidance from EEOC on Opioid Addiction

Opioid AddictionOn August 5, 2020, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) produced new guidance on the applicability of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) to employees and the use of opioids, as well as documentation for healthcare providers to assist in advising patients on maintaining employment status while treating with opioids.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, under the umbrella of the National Institutes of Health, identifies opioids as a class of drugs including common prescription painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone, often prescribed under the brand names OxyContin and Vicodin respectively, codeine, and morphine, as well as heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.  Under the supervision and management of medical professionals, many of these pharmaceuticals are considered safe.  Extended use or increased dosage, however, carries increased risk of dependence and addiction.  Incorrect, mismanaged, or illegal use of these substances can also result in overdose and death.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse has noted an increase in overdose deaths since 2007 related to the use of certain opioids.  This increase has sparked discussion of a national opioid addiction epidemic, cries for regulation of these products and new approaches to the treatment of addiction, as well as the use of opioids for pain management even in medically supervised settings.

The first release from the EEOC, entitled “Use of Codeine, Oxycodone, and Other Opioids: Information for Employees” stresses that the use of illegal drugs remains unprotected as a disability, but seeks to clarify that lawful use of prescribed opioids, medication assisted treatment for opioid addiction, and those who have recovered from opioid addiction, are all afforded protection from disability discrimination.  In the second release, entitled “How Health Care Providers Can Help Current and Former Patients Who Have Used Opioids Stay Employed,” the EEOC also seeks to address what constitutes a potential reasonable accommodation for any of these disabilities, and how health care providers can assist a patient in seeking protection or reasonable accommodation for their disability.  This guidance serves to clarify important distinctions between the types of opioid use, dependency and addiction that are afforded protection as disabilities, and how to seek a reasonable accommodation for such a disability.

While these conditions qualify as protected disabilities and employers are required to attempt to provide reasonable accommodations where possible, some employers may choose to ignore these protections and terminate an employee because of these disabilities.  If your employer has discriminated or retaliated against you, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. immediately to schedule a consultation through one of our websites,www.employmentlawyernewyork.com, www.516abogado.com, or any of our phone numbers: (516) 248–5550, (516) ABOGADO, or (212) 679–5000.

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