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Protections Under the ADA

Health & Benefits

People in recovery from Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What is a disability under the ADA?

The ADA protects people with disabilities from discrimination in many situations, such as housing, transportation, and employment to name a few. It protects you from being discriminated against because of your disability from both private businesses, like a restaurant or movie theater, and a government, like a city.

The definition of “disability” under the ADA is very broad.

A person has a disability under the ADA if the person:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, or
  • Has a history of an impairment that substantially limited one or more major life activities, or
  • Is thought to have such an impairment.

Your disability has to really limit one or more major life activity. This, too, is a broad category under the ADA. A disability substantially limits a life activity if it is harder for you to perform the activity compared to someone without a disability. Major life activities can include, but are not limited to:

  • caring for yourself (dressing, bathing, etc)
  • seeing
  • hearing
  • sleeping
  • eating
  • walking 
  • standing 
  • sitting 
  • reaching
  • lifting
  • bending
  • speaking
  • breathing
  • learning
  • reading
  • concentrating
  • thinking
  • communicating 

Remember, this is not a complete list, so we encourage you to check with a legal organization if you are not sure if you are protected by the ADA or not.

OUD as a Disability Under the ADA

The ADA protects persons with OUD or in recovery from being discriminated against or treated differently because of their disorder. This includes people who are taking legally-prescribed medication to treat their OUD.

To qualify as a person with disability for OUD under the ADA, a person must fall into at least one of the following categories:

  • Be in treatment or recovery from OUD.
  • Be taking legally prescribed medicine to treat their OUD.
  • Be  in a supervised OUD rehabilitation or drug treatment program.
  • Have a history of past OUD but are no longer illegally using drugs.
  • Is  “regarded as” having OUD, even if they do not in fact have OUD.

However, the ADA does not protect individuals who:

  • Are currently taking illegal drugs.
  • Are a former casual drug user. There must have been addiction involved.

What is discrimination under the ADA?

Under the ADA, persons with disabilities cannot be treated differently than individuals without disabilities.

How does the ADA protect me?

As mentioned above, the ADA is available to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. If you are discriminated against because of your past opioid use, there are two options available to protect you:

  1. File an administrative complaint.
  2. File a lawsuit.

Filing an administrative complaint

An administrative complaint is the formal process for registering a complaint with a state or federal agency. What agency you will file a complaint with will depend on who discriminated against you. There are specific agencies created to address concerns:

For other complaints, file a discrimination complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ). You can file with the DOJ online or by mail.

  • Online form
  • Print and mail a form to:
    U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division
    Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
    Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

    For more information about this process, you can call the Civil Rights Division at (202) 514-3847, 1-855-856-1247 (toll free), or by Telephone Device for the Deaf: (TTY) (202) 514-0716.

Filing a lawsuit

You also have a right to file a private lawsuit under state or federal law. If you want to pursue any discrimination claims you may have, you can seek the services of an attorney. However, even if you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you can still file a lawsuit on your own. Note that each type of discrimination lawsuit may have different requirements, as well as deadlines to file a lawsuit.

What are the potential remedies?

Under the ADA, the remedies available will depend on the area of discrimination experienced. 

Employment Discrimination

  • Back pay
  • Reinstatement
  • Being given the denied promotion 
  • Being given the requested reasonable accommodation 


  • Being given the requested reasonable accommodation 
  • Requiring the housing provider to change their policies and practices 
  • Monetary damages 

Publicly Available Areas

  • Orders telling the business or entity that they must stop discriminating 
  • Orders directing the business or entity to make specific facility improvements or changes
  • Fines against the business or entity

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