Yes, in most states, nurses can use Suboxone to treat an opioid use disorder (OUD).
All people with substance use disorders (SUD) are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). People with OUD following a treatment plan can’t face discrimination in the workplace as long as they have a valid, legal prescription for this medication. Unfortunately, some individuals, including nurses, do still face discrimination while taking these medications.
Suboxone is a prescription medication for OUD. Many people working in hospitals and clinics , like the rest of the population, may struggle with OUD and may be candidates for Suboxone therapy.
Suboxone contains buprenorphine. When taken as directed, the medication is minimally sedating or intoxicating. People with OUD report feeling normal — not high — while using their medications. Some take the medication for years to prevent relapse and maintain abstinence.
While in theory, all individuals - including nurses - should be entitled to use this medication under the ADA, some still face discrimination:
As a nurse in Pennsylvania discovered, some employers may continue to discriminate against people on treatment for OUD. He developed an OUD and enrolled in a reinstatement program, which would allow him to work in his field if he participated in treatment and stuck to his approved program. He asked if he could use Suboxone and was told it would only be approved if he had a taper plan that would restore him to total sobriety. A similar program exists in Georgia. Nurses with OUD may not return to practice until their buprenorphine use is discontinued.
The bans exist due to concerns about the following:
The ADA is designed to protect all people from workplace discrimination, and those protections extend to nurses.
The ADA explicitly prohibits discrimination against people recovering from OUD, and the U.S. Department of Justice points out that those protections apply to common nursing workplaces, including these:
Some nurses are fighting for their rights. In Indiana, the U.S. Justice Department found that the Indiana State Nursing Board violated the ADA by prohibiting nurses with OUD from participating in programs to get their licenses back. This March 2022 ruling could have a ripple effect throughout the country. Hopefully, more nurses will get the help they need.
But for now, nurses hoping to use Suboxone should proceed carefully. A treatment provider can help you understand state law and determine how to best treat your substance use disorder without losing your state nursing license.