Confidentiality of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Treatment Information for Emergency Department and Trauma Center Patients

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disclosure, substance abuse and treatment, confidentiality, health privacy


he diagnosis and treatment of alcohol and other drug (AOD) use disorders has for the most part been confined to a narrow band of the U.S. heath-care system. Recently, some hospital emergency departments and, especially, trauma centers have taken the lead in seeking to integrate AOD diagnosis and treatment through the adoption of screening and brief intervention protocols.

The available data suggest that the practice of providing screening and either brief interventions or referrals for more intensive AOD treatment can significantly reduce re-injury rates. Despite these encouraging statistics, many trauma centers and emergency departments still do not provide these services for all patients. Some advocates have suggested that federal confidentiality statutes and regulations governing AOD treatment information have an inhibiting effect on the willingness and ability of providers to engage in these activities, and have raised the possibility that amendments to these provisions may be necessary.

This article analyzes the federal AOD confidentiality law and regulations to determine whether, and under what circumstances, those special health privacy rules might apply to AOD screening and intervention activities in the context of emergency departments and trauma centers. The article concludes with some observations about the broader question of whether the federal confidentiality law and regulations should be revised, given the obvious benefits of mainstreaming substance abuse diagnosis and treatment on the one hand, and the continuing stigma and legal jeopardy associated with the disclosure of those disorders on the other.

Publication Citation

20 Health Matrix 325 (2010).


Food and Drug Law | Health Law and Policy

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