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Justice Department: Pa. courts discriminated against people with opioid dependency

An exterior sign is photographed outside the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice building in Washington
Posted at 6:12 PM, Feb 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-07 20:12:17-05

The U.S. Department of Justice says it has found that multiple courts in Pennsylvania's Unified Judicial System violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by "prohibiting or limiting the use of disability-related medication to treat Opioid Use Disorder by individuals under court supervision."

The Justice Department issued a letter of findings in which it states that the state of Pennsylvania must address what it calls civil rights violations which were found during an investigation conducted by the agency's Civil Rights Division along with the U.S. Attorney's Offices for the Eastern, Middle and Western Districts of Pennsylvania.

The department says the violations came through the actions of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania's component courts.

During the court of the department's investigation alongside state agencies, three individuals were identified and determined to have been discriminated against by multiple county courts in Pennsylvania. Two of those individuals say that courts ordered all probationers to cease use of prescribed medication meant to treat Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). A third individual identified in the investigation, according to the Justice Department, alleged that a county court required that she stop using prescribed OUD medication in order to graduate from a drug court program.

The Justice Department says that their investigation has corroborated the allegations of the individuals and said the Pennsylvania courts have received a written notice showing evidence supporting the findings along with "minimum remedial measures necessary to address them."

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said, “Individuals with Opioid Use Disorder are protected by the ADA but too often face discrimination rooted in stereotypes and myths rather than in science. This is exactly the sort of discrimination the ADA was designed to prevent.”

Clarke said, “Ensuring that court-involved individuals with Opioid Use Disorder have access to the medications they need is critical to support recovery efforts and to break the cycles of opioid addiction that have harmed families and communities across our country. Ensuring that courts are employing science-driven and data-informed approaches to this crisis is an important priority for the Civil Rights Division.”