In the wake of the national opioid overdose crisis, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has provided clarification on when covered entities are permitted to disclose patient information during opioid emergencies.

The OCR commented that some health care providers believe that they must have the patient’s consent in order to share information with family members about a patient’s opioid overdose.

The OCR has clarified that health care providers may share limited protected health information in natural disasters and during drug overdoses, if sharing the information could prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to a patient’s health or safety.

In fact, health care providers may share limited information with a patient’s family, caregivers or loved ones without consent if the healthcare provider determines that sharing information is in the best interest of the patient, provided that the information is limited to that directly related to the individual’s involvement in the patient’s care or payment of care; or if informing the individuals would help prevent or lessen a serious threat to the patient’s health and safety, which would include continued opioid use.

If the patient is not unconscious or incapacitated, the patient must be given the opportunity to object to the disclosure. If the patient objects, the health care provider may only share the information if the s/he believes there is a serious and imminent threat of harm to the individual’s health.