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The Impact of the Opioid Crisis on ADA Discrimination Claims


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the opioid crisis in the United States has resulted in more than 115 deaths each day. Addiction and abuse of opioids, including various prescription pain relievers, is recognized as a serious national crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that the economic burden of prescription opioid abuse is $78.5 billion annually in the United States. The effects can be seen in rising healthcare costs and loss in productivity in the workplace, among other things.

The Federal Government’s Response to the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic in the United States has been recognized by the federal government as a “public health emergency.” In order to address this problem, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has proposed a bill that would give the U.S. Department of Labor grants to support its efforts in fighting this crisis, particularly in the workforce. Those efforts will include providing training to employees in the ability to identify prescription drug or opioid abuse. The Americans With Disabilities Act and Drug Use One of the most important facts that cannot be overlooked is the fact that not all opioid use is problematic. That means employees who are legally authorized to use opioids and who are not abusing them may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On the other hand, an employee who is engaging in illegal drug use would not be considered a qualified individual with a disability under the Act. To put it differently, employees who are prescribed opioids to treat a disabling condition are protected under the ADA.

The ADA provides for reasonable accommodations

In addition to prohibiting discrimination, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees known to have a disability. A reasonable accommodation is basically an adjustment or modification an employer provides to enable individuals with disabilities to have equal employment opportunities. Of course, accommodations vary depending on what each individual needs, and not all individuals with disabilities will need the same accommodations.

So-called “Recovery-Friendly” Workplaces

The typical response of employers to drug use issues with employees is to impose drugfree workplace policies that are enforced through the use of drug testing. However, another approach is to create a recovery-friendly workplace. The reality is that opioid use and abuse often begins after a work-related injury that requires prescription medication. For this reason, employers are becoming more involved in providing recovery resources for employees. In doing so, employees are less inclined to conceal drug use and instead come forward for assistance.

Other ADA considerations for drug-related disabilities

It is important for employees to understand that the ADA provides protections for authorized drug use. That means your employer may be obligated to provide an accommodation for the purposes of seeking rehabilitation if an opioid addiction occurs. Employees who have recovered from an opioid addiction may be disabled and subject to protection under the ADA. If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Michel | King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!

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