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Heroin Rehab: A Letter to Family Members About Confidentiality

Dear Family Member,

You’ve got to be having mixed feelings right about now as your loved one goes into heroin rehab. Most of those who need addiction treatment never even make it through the front doors of a rehab center, and one of their biggest worries is what the program staff will say to their friends and families. This is where we need to tell you that federal guidelines prevent us from telling you just about anything about your loved one’s treatment. 42 CFR Part 2—that’s the Code of Federal Regulations—governs the protection of every client’s confidentiality as they take this important step toward wellness.

You may be the primary reason your loved one opted for heroin rehab. But even if you’re the one who provided transportation for the assessment and initial office visit, the program staff must deal with a barrier set up by these regulations that prohibits virtually all communications without a signed authorization to release information.

Why Is Heroin Rehab So Private?

It’s not uncommon for the spouse, parent, or other loved one of an addict to drive them to a methadone maintenance clinic They drop them off at the door and go off to have some coffee or run some errands while the person with the addiction diagnosis goes through the initial steps of treatment. You are going to be annoyed when you return to the clinic and ask the receptionist how much longer your family member will be and the receptionist says, “I can’t even tell you if I recognize that name.”

Even once treatment begins, the restrictions on sharing information continue. Take the case of a young mother who sought heroin rehab in Texas; we’ll call her Michelle. Michelle moved in with her mother while she was in treatment. Michelle’s mother drove her to her appointments and took care of Michelle’s two young children as necessary. But when Michelle was negatively discharged from treatment, nobody at the heroin rehab center would tell her mother what happened. “Ask your daughter,” said the counselor. “She knows why.”

We Understand Your Frustration

Substance use disorder is a medical diagnosis just like diabetes or heart disease. The government established its regulations to protect the person who seeks help for opiate or heroin rehab treatment just as it protects the rights of any other patient. That veil of confidentiality is a welcome reassurance to the person who is struggling with a variety of emotions while he moves toward recovery. Nevertheless, the family members who care about the person want to participate in the treatment. They know they can contribute information that will help with their loved one’s recovery. Being left out of the loop is very bewildering to family members.

You can rest assured that most heroin rehab centers follow state guidelines that address the need to improve family functioning. It’s actually a dimension of a standard treatment plan. When the time is right, the counselor will have your loved one sign releases so that you can participate in individual or family group sessions.

In the meantime, that receptionist who can’t give you any other information will most likely have some brochures about family support groups like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. Now is the time to begin attending those meetings. Right now, at the beginning of this long process, it’s the best thing you can do, for yourself and for the person you love.

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