State Releases Report to Address Barriers for Individuals Seeking Substance Use Disorder Treatment

pennsylvania department of drug and alcohol programs

HARRISBURG, PA — The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) has announced findings from a new report highlighting the need to update existing client record policies to address barriers for individuals seeking substance use disorder (SUD) treatment and better integrate the drug and alcohol treatment system with other healthcare services.

This project is part of DDAP’s 2020-2022 Strategic Plan goal to strengthen Pennsylvania’s drug and alcohol treatment system by making it easier for clients to navigate and helping providers to better support clients by improving care coordination, integrating services, and improving communication between a client’s multiple providers. In addition, this project touches on the importance of treating SUD as a medical disease. By improving the process of sharing a person’s SUD treatment record, providers can more efficiently provide individualized, person-centered care.

“These findings further reiterate the need to break down any barriers that may stand in the way of an individual on their journey to long-term recovery,” said DDAP Secretary Jen Smith. “We look forward to working with the General Assembly to update existing, age-old policies that may hinder treatment outcomes for Pennsylvanians with substance use disorder who are looking to better their lives.”

The recommendations outlined in this report suggest a shift in Pennsylvania’s approach to the confidentiality of SUD records. DDAP plans to work with the legislature to implement the following three recommendations:

  • Align Pennsylvania SUD confidentiality regulations with federal regulatory language contained in 42 CFR Part 2.
  • Develop resources, including informed consent trainings, on client privacy rights to ensure that all individuals who enter SUD treatment in Pennsylvania are informed about their rights over their own records.
  • Create an ombudsman or advocate position at the state level to empower individuals to report grievances if they think their data has been misused or if they feel their SUD status has resulted in discrimination.
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Throughout 2020, DDAP conducted a stakeholder survey in partnership with Vital Strategies, for feedback on statutes and regulations that control the management of SUD records in Pennsylvania. The new report and findings offer potential pathways for updating Pennsylvania’s SUD confidentiality policies to meet the needs of an evolving SUD service landscape that is becoming increasingly more integrated and collaborative.

The commonwealth’s current client record policies, also known as confidentiality policies, were developed in the 1970s, not considering the ever-evolving changes in the drug and alcohol field throughout the last 50 years. Pennsylvania is one of only three states that has SUD confidentiality policies that go above and beyond the federal SUD confidentiality requirements. These policies approach protection of records by limiting access to information, sometimes even in cases when a client consents to it being shared.

Client record policies that were explored through this survey include the three main Pennsylvania statutes and regulations that control the ability to share a person’s SUD records.

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The stakeholder assessment and report were funded as part of a $10 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies designed to strengthen state and local opioid prevention and treatment efforts. In 2018, Pennsylvania was selected as the first state for this partnership due to the toll the epidemic has taken on the state and the work it has already done to fight the opioid crisis.

To view the report and learn more about DDAP’s confidentiality assessment, visit

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