A class action alleges the Salvation Army has put thousands each year at an increased risk of death, relapse, severe illness and homelessness by denying those with opioid addiction access to doctor-prescribed medication-assisted treatments.
A proposed class action alleges the Salvation Army has put thousands each year at an increased risk of death, relapse, severe illness and homelessness by denying those with opioid use disorder (OUD) access to doctor-prescribed medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
The plaintiff, a Massachusetts resident described in the 37-page lawsuit as having a long history of opioid addiction in addition to a chronic brain disease and disability, alleges that he is among those who’ve been discriminatorily expelled from the Salvation Army’s residential Adult Rehabilitation Centers and Programs (ARCs) due to opioid addiction and their participation in MAT.
For individuals suffering and/or recovering from opioid addiction, the expulsion from and/or prohibition against joining the Salvation Army’s ARCs has potentially exacerbated their OUD symptoms, led to relapse and substantially reduced their chance of successful, long-term recovery, the suit asserts. The lawsuit alleges the defendants, who operate each Salvation Army territory nationwide, have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rehabilitation Act and Fair Housing Act by excluding those participating in MAT, even under doctor’s orders, from ARCs and/or denying those with opioid addiction from access to MAT while enrolled in ARCs.
Medication-assisted treatment is the medically recognized standard of care for treating opioid addiction, the complaint relays. Whereas some patients can treat opioid use through other methods, most patients rely on MAT to achieve long-term recovery, the case says. Per the suit, MAT for opioid addiction involves a doctor’s prescription of medications such as methadone, buprenorphine (such as Suboxone or Subutex) or naltrexone (Vivitrol) alongside therapeutic interventions as a way to better enable those with OUD to overcome cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Medications such as methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone have been approved by the FDA as treatments for opioid dependence, the case relays. The drugs, more specifically, block opioid receptors in the brain, suppress opioid cravings and prevent painful withdrawal symptoms, the lawsuit says.
According to the complaint, however, the Salvation Army prohibits MAT at its more than 140 ARCs across the United States, purportedly to assist those recovering from substance abuse. The lawsuit contends that the Salvation Army, within the meaning of and for the purpose of applying federal anti-discrimination laws, is engaged in providing education, healthcare, housing and social services and is therefore subject to the requirements of statutes such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Fair Housing Act.
The Salvation Army’s ARCs provide participants with housing and basic living necessities for roughly six months, during which the individuals are expected to live on site, be sober, attend church and work full-time at the defendants’ thrift stores without wages, the lawsuit says. Per the complaint, the Salvation Army relies on “a steady stream of program participants who do not have anywhere else to go,” and the defendants’ ARCs are in many communities the only rehabilitation option available for those with opioid addiction. Many ARC participants arrive from court placements, probation or prison, and become enrolled in the programs as an alternative to incarceration, the case relays.
Despite the “substantial consensus” among doctors that MAT is the standard of care for opioid addiction, the Salvation Army nevertheless prohibits MAT, even for those who are already taking doctor-prescribed medications at the time they seek or are ordered to participate in the defendants’ rehabilitation services, the lawsuit alleges. The complaint scathes that the Salvation Army has failed to update its ARCs to keep up with modern best practices and standards of care for opioid addiction to the detriment of individuals such as the plaintiff:
“Defendants’ discriminatory policies and practices present individuals participating in MAT with an impossible decision: stop taking doctor-prescribed medications before enrolling in The Salvation Army’s rehabilitation program, risking cravings, painful withdrawal, and other serious medical effects – including greatly increasing the risk of death from OUD – or forego The Salvation Army’s rehabilitation programs and services – including housing – altogether.”
The lawsuit looks to represent all individuals with opioid use disorder who are or were excluded from participating in the Salvation Army’s ARCs in the United States because of their doctor-prescribed MAT drugs, including methadone (and the variety with hydrochloride), buprenorphine (including the variety with naloxone) and naltrexone. The suit also looks to cover all individuals with OUD who are or were denied access to doctor-prescribed MAT drugs, including those previously mentioned, while participating in the Salvation Army’s ARCs in the U.S.
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