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Dept. of Justice reiterates guidance on use of medication in jails for opioid use disorder

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects people in recovery

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is reminding correctional facilities, including county jails, about the applicability of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to incarcerated individuals recovering from opioid use disorder (OUD).

In a recent letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky, correctional facility administrators were advised that under the ADA, “facilities cannot deny healthcare services, including lawfully prescribed medication, to individuals based upon the type of medication prescribed. This includes buprenorphine (Suboxone), naltrexone, or methadone, which are used to treat Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). Individuals being treated with medication for OUD are generally considered disabled and are protected by the ADA.”

The letter said that the office has received reports in recent years of jails and prisons not complying with the ADA.

According to the DOJ, when an inmate has been prescribed medication to treat OUD, correctional facilities:

  • May not change or discontinue the individual’s medication, unless their individualized treatment plan is changed by a licensed healthcare provider. (Note: The cost of medication to treat OUD for incarcerated individuals may be an allowable use of a county’s Opioid Settlement funds.)
  • Must offer treatment with medication for all individuals in custody for whom OUD treatment is medically appropriate.
  • Must train staff on ADA requirements.

The DOJ has pursued enforcement actions against correctional facilities in Kentucky and other states for failing to meet the ADA requirements. The letter states that, in accordance with federal law, the DOJ will “continue to pursue enforcement actions against correctional facilities that fall short of meeting these legal requirements.”

For additional guidance, feel free to reach out to KACo's jail consultant, Tracey Reed ( 

Additional Resources

NACo brief: Effective Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder for Incarcerated Populations

U.S. Department of Justice: ADA/Opioid Use Disorder guidance


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