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New Involuntary Commitment Laws Threaten Drug Users

While many states have had laws in place for some time that allow short term involuntary commitment of drug users, the time they can be held against their will is generally limited. But the laws are getting more stringent and the time allowed for commitment longer and longer. Many people will also find themselves spending that time in private prisons that are hurting for customers.

In total, 37 states currently have laws that allow someone to be held against their will. They’re usually only kept people for a very short time unless they’ve committed a crime or threatened to hurt themselves or others.

Some laws have been in place for a short time, and others for much longer. In California, for example, a law allowing people to be held against their will was passed in 1967. Some states don’t have these laws at all, but even many of those are now trying to push them through.

Also, maybe being held overnight in the ‘drunk tank’ or some such thing isn’t so bad. But 90 days is different, and that’s what many states are pushing for.

  • Kentucky and Ohio have been revising their laws to keep people basically incarcerated for long periods of time.
  • Two years ago Mike Pence signed an involuntary commitment law in Indiana
  • Last year Florida passed a law that allows people to be held for up to 90 days.
  • New Jersey’s been working on passing an involuntary commitment law for two years.
  • And they’re considering passing similar bills in New Hampshire, Alabama, Maryland, Michigan, and Mississippi.

Even worse is how little it takes to actually wind up in that position.

In Florida, they’re holding people for up to 90 days AND any adult “with direct personal observed knowledge of the respondent’s impairment,” can petition for the commitment. And they only have to show there’s a probability of substance abuse” and say that the person is “incapable of making a rational decision regarding his or her need for care.” Which means – someone else thinks they need treatment, but the person being committed doesn’t feel they need it or want it. Too bad.

In New Jersey, the bill they’re trying to get through right now allows a “police officer with no addiction training to detain a person if they have ‘reasonable cause’ to believe that the person is in need of involuntary treatment.”

A bill proposed in the Washington Senate lists the reasons someone can be committed as:

  • They’ve had three or more arrests related to activities connected to substance abuse
  • They’ve been in rehab or detox, EVER
  • Or they have at least three visible track marks from using needles

Bills being considered in Pennsylvania include the ability to hold someone against their will if they have “ingested an amount of drugs as to render himself unconscious or in need of medical treatment to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm.” So, if they took too much or had a reaction between two drugs and went to the hospital, they could be held against their will.

As is often the case, there are unintended consequences with this law. A woman in California, for example, who had a very painful chronic nerve condition as well as three herniated disks and two pinched nerves forgot to take her morning painkiller and, not understanding that she should do this, doubled up on her night painkiller to make up for it. She wound up held for six days, put in restraints, and forced to take antipsychotic drugs.

She’s currently mid a lawsuit.

Kirk Bowden, a  a certified addiction clinician and the former president of the Association for Addiction Professionals said that although patients stay off the drugs while they’re being held – I don’t know how much treatment they actually get but it certainly isn’t a full drug rehab that could actually change their life – they often start right back up with it as soon as they get out. If someone gets treatment voluntarily, they’re much less likely to start again after they leave.

Another problem with this system is there isn’t room for people who are trying to get treatment voluntarily. Where are these involuntary people going to go? According to a recently article, “the private prison industry is waiting quietly in the wings, sensing an opportunity to get new business in the wake of declining prison populations.” Sounds like a buzzard on top of a mountain  watching and waiting for its prey.

What do you think? Do you think people taking drugs (and this might include alcohol, I’m not sure) should be able to be involuntarily committed?

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