In short, a rehab center can’t report your substance use to the police in most cases. Simply admitting to drug use isn’t enough for the rehab to call the police, even if you have an existing criminal record. Whether your substance use disorder is current or in the past, a drug treatment center can’t call the police if you’re simply seeking drug abuse treatment.

Ultimately, jail shouldn’t be a concern if you’re seeking treatment for a substance use disorder. Rehabilitation facilities are focused on helping you recover from your substance use and taking you through the drug rehabilitation process — they aren’t going to call the police to send you to jail for illicit substance use. Their goal is to help you recover and provide you with healthy coping skills to live an enriching, sober life.

While most cases can’t be reported to law enforcement, there are a few instances where a rehab center can call the police. Continue reading to learn more about your rights as a patient, why a rehabilitation center might contact law enforcement and more.

Patient Confidentiality: Knowing Your Rights

As a patient at a rehab center, you have rights that protect your private information. You should familiarize yourself with the laws that protect your medical information to ensure you know what’s being done with it. When you start treatment, a rehab center employee will give you the center’s privacy and confidentiality guidelines to sign. This paperwork outlines your rights as a patient. The staff at the rehab facility must also sign these documents.

Most of the information and protections in these guidelines come from laws established to give patients more rights than they once had. The following are a few of the laws that health care providers must follow.

The Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act of 1996

The Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) was first introduced in 1996 to prevent health care providers from sharing patient information without explicit consent from the patient. The information you share with your physician or any other health care provider must remain private, which is known as doctor-patient confidentiality.

Drug treatment centers fall under “covered entities,” which means they’re subject to the HIPPA Privacy Rule. Medical staff at the rehab facility can’t divulge your medical information to anyone, including law enforcement. The Privacy Rule also allows patients to control how their medical information is used.

Your medical information can only be shared without your consent in specific instances, including:

  • Medical emergencies
  • Suspicion of neglect or abuse
  • Legal warrants or subpoenas
  • Specific research situations

If a medical facility has to disclose your information for any reason, it can only be enough to fulfill the needs of the situation, such as disclosing medications you’re taking in the event of a medical emergency. Breaking HIPPA guidelines can result in considerable legal repercussions for the treatment center. If someone in the facility divulges your information with malicious intent, they can face up to 10 years in prison.

The Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records

This regulation was initially instated in 1975 and revised in 1987. It states that rehab facilities can’t directly or indirectly divulge information that would identify you as a current or past patient at said facility. If the facility has your explicit written consent, they would be able to share your information with certain parties — but otherwise, they must keep your information private.

If a police officer enters the facility trying to seek information about your substance use and they don’t have a warrant or a subpoena, the rehab facility is not allowed to give them your information. Like HIPPA laws, if a staff member shares your medical information with your consent, the facility will face legal repercussions.

There are a few exceptions to this regulation. If there are court-ordered criminal investigations, warrants or subpoenas, your information can be shared with law enforcement. Your information can also be shared if there is suspected child abuse or neglect, a medical emergency or a program evaluation.

However, in most cases, a rehab facility can’t share your information since it’s legally part of their job to protect your medical records.

 

Can I Be Charged in Rehab?

Upon admittance to a drug treatment center for substance use disorder, you won’t be charged for using drugs, whether you’re seeking treatment for a past or current substance use. However, there are some reasons that a rehab facility might call the police.

If you were arrested in the past for a nonviolent drug offense, you might be able to go to drug court rather than jail. Drug court specifically handles drug cases for adults and juveniles. A drug court can sentence you to court-ordered rehab to reduce relapse and the chances of you committing another crime.

If you fail to show up to court-ordered rehab, the facility can call the police, and it’ll be seen as a violation of your sentencing, resulting in harsher punishments.

A rehab facility can also contact law enforcement, or law enforcement can get involved, if:

  • You exhibit destructive or violent behavior.
  • You admit yourself into rehab to avoid an arrest for a criminal act.
  • You have a warrant out for your arrest.

You can also be arrested in rehab if a staff member catches you using or possessing drugs within the facility. The facility staff keeps a careful eye out for substance use. If you’re caught with drugs, you can be charged with drug possession. If you’re caught with a significant amount of illicit or prescription drugs, you can be charged with possession with intent to sell, which comes with more severe legal repercussions.

If you committed a minor crime before admitting yourself into a treatment facility, law enforcement may wait until you’ve completed treatment to make an arrest.

If you’re looking into treatment for substance use, you can rest assured that you won’t be arrested in rehab simply for having a substance use disorder. The priority of treatment facilities is to treat your substance use disorder and any underlying conditions contributing to it, not to have you arrested for illicit drug use.