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Denise Shanahan, right, is raising her grandchildren after losing her daughter Bryanna to a drug overdose. Shanahan says her daughter believed she had to test positive for opioids to be admitted for treatment. (Brett Sholtis/Transforming Health)

(Harrisburg) — A bill in the state House would ban addiction treatment centers from requiring people to test positive for opioids or other drugs in order to get admitted for care.

Republican State Rep. Jack Rader of Monroe County co-sponsored the bill after hearing from a constituent who lost a son to an overdose.

“The reason for this new law stems from an unfortunate circumstance in my legislative district where a young man seeking treatment had been clean, but he may have been required to test positive for drug use in order to commence treatment for his substance use disorder,” Rader states in the co-sponsorship memo. “He went out and used an opioid in an effort to provide a positive drug test and unfortunately suffered an overdose that killed him.”

Democratic State Rep. Maureen Madden, also from Monroe County, voiced her support for the bill. At a house human services committee meeting Tuesday, Madden said the constituent told her that her son overdosed after being told by the treatment provider that it wouldn’t accept him if his drug screening was negative for opioids.

Rader and Madden didn’t name the addiction treatment provider that the constituent mentioned. The constituent wishes to remain anonymous, they said.

Rader said his focus isn’t to punish providers, but rather to prevent this from happening in the future.

“This is something I’ve heard about in my district,” Rader said. “I’m just trying to save some lives.”

The bill raises questions about a potentially dangerous practice, although it’s unclear how common it is.

The state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs is the agency that licenses Pennsylvania’s more than 800 drug treatment facilities.

Deputy Secretary Ellen DiDomenico said the department is unaware of any providers requiring tests to get care.

“We are not aware of specific incidences,” DiDomenico said. “That’s not to say that it’s never happened. We just are not aware of specific incidents, and we do not believe that this is happening on any kind of a routine basis.”

Still, she said she supports the bill, saying it will remove a potential obstacle to people getting help. She said DDAP doesn’t have the regulatory power to prohibit providers from mandating positive tests.

“What we were wanting to make sure is that we don’t have barriers to individuals getting into treatment,” she said.

To be clear, initial drug screenings are a useful tool, DiDomenico said. For example, it would help clinicians to determine the best course of treatment.

However, there’s no regulation nor clinical reason why a person would have to be on opioids to get help. A person who had already detoxed from heroin would simply be admitted to a different type of rehabilitation.

It’s critical that providers are sensitive to people who are trying to get help for opioid addiction, DiDomenico said. “You know, we can’t lose the opportunity to engage people at any point.”

Contact Brett Sholtis at Brett_Sholtis@witf.org or 717-910-2905.