Tom Price says changing privacy laws could improve addiction treatment

HHS Secretary Tom Price said the agency is reviewing possible regulatory changes to substance abuse privacy laws.

The Department of Health and Human Services is exploring ways to alter existing privacy laws to make it easier for families to find out if a loved one is battling addiction, according to HHS Secretary Tom Price.

Price offered few specifics about how patient privacy laws would be reconfigured, but pointed to the "pivotal" role of local communities and families in helping patients battle opioid addiction.

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“It’s devastating for anybody to learn of a family who is not able to be notified that one of their loved ones has had a problem with addiction because of privacy laws,” he said during a White House briefing on Tuesday.

“We’re looking through the regulatory process to determine what can be done, if anything, to make it so that those privacy requirements are not as onerous in the case of an overdose, and it’s certainly something that Congress could address and we’ll be talking with them, and have had conversations with many of them about that,” he added.

RELATED: White House opioid commission calls for data sharing between state and federal PDMPs by next year

Changing privacy laws was one of several initial recommendations released by the White House’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis last week. The commission called for changes to Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records regulations (42 CFR Part 2) to improve substance abuse data sharing between providers. That regulation was modified earlier this year to allow patients to disclose substance abuse information using a general designation rather than a specific provider.

Although Price declined to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency—another recommendation issued by the commission—he did say it is critical that the agency is “making certain we’re doing the data [and] identifying the data” associated with opioid addiction to better understand why 52,000 people died of an overdose in 2015.

The commission called for widespread integration of state and federal prescription drug monitoring programs by July 2018.