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Home > Privacy and Business > Medical Privacy > What is Medical Information? > Substance Abuse


Substance Abuse

Though substance abuse is a common problem, it is highly stigmatized. Patients may resist getting treatment for substance abuse because of the risk that the fact of their substance abuse and other sensitive information about them will be disclosed. If substance abusers are confident that their information will be kept private, and revealed only with their knowledge and consent, they will be more likely to seek treatment. This makes the privacy of information about substance abuse an important part of treating the problem.

The privacy of substance abuse information should not be absolute, however. Substance abusers may be dangers to others, including even their children. Other, higher values may sometimes overcome the high value placed on privacy of information relating to substance abuse.

Crime-control is not a value that overcomes privacy of substance abuse information. Because the price of illegal drugs is inflated by some efforts to prevent their use, abusers of some substances are involved in crime to support their habits. Law enforcers may not, however, use information about substance abuse treatment to fight crime. Through a statute protecting the privacy of substance abuse information, Congress has made a judgment that privacy is a higher value than crime control.


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[updated 12/28/00]



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