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First in the nation legislation protecting communications in drug and alcohol recovery programs on way to Governor’s desk

Summary

Dunn proposal seeks to safeguard private nature of treatment

Story

It is widely accepted that alcoholism is a disease. But while communication between an individual and their doctor or priest is privileged under law, the discussions between those in an addiction recovery programs are not. That will soon change with today’s passage of SB 6498, legislation that protects the confidential nature of the relationship between an individual participating in an alcohol or drug addiction recovery program and their program sponsor.

“I’m overjoyed that the Washington state Legislature has passed this measure that will ensure sponsor and sponsee communication is protected. This is the first law of its kind in the nation,” said Council Vice Chair Reagan Dunn, primary advocate of the bill. “It is in all of our interests to see as many successful cases of recovery as possible and removing any barriers to that healing process is essential.”

“Alcoholism is a serious disease,” said Sen. Joe Fain, of Auburn, who serves as Senate Majority Floor Leader. “Reducing barriers to treatment is key to successful outcomes. People afflicted with substance abuse battle daily to maintain their sobriety. Strengthening successful programs like Alcoholics Anonymous can help keep people in recovery with the tools they need to stay sober.”

State law currently allows privileged communication for people serving as attorneys, counselors, spouses, journalists and medical professionals. Lawyers seeking negative portrayals of individuals in lawsuits and divorce proceedings can exploit the lack of protection for addiction recovery sponsors through subpoenas, depositions and trial testimony. This kind of legal action has the potential to discourage those seeking recovery from pursuing it.

SB 6498, which applies to all noncriminal actions, provides legal protection to individuals seeking alcohol and drug addiction treatment and their program sponsors. The bill creates a testimonial privilege so that sponsors cannot be called to testify in future civil proceedings. This privilege does not apply in any criminal legal proceedings.

The legislation received overwhelming support in both the state House and Senate. It now goes to Governor Jay Inslee for his signature.

“I am so pleased that this legislation, that will protect and strengthen addiction recovery communities throughout King County and Washington State has passed,” said Jim Vollendroff, Director of the King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division. “I am proud of the Washington State Legislature for recognizing how this bill protects the privacy of individuals and in doing so encourages them to access support and help when they need it. I hope that other states can follow our lead and take action towards protecting those working towards a life in recovery.”
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