An addict in the midst of active addiction can be hard to reason with. Their mind believes they are still in control of their abuse despite the numerous factors in their daily life that should show them they are not. “I can stop anytime I want!” or “It’s my life and I can do what I please with it.” Sometimes no matter how gentle you are, the suffering addict cannot see it any other way. In instances like this, where heavy drug use has impacted their every day life, making it unable for them to keep a job, raise their children or stay out of incarceration, the stakes become higher and loved ones feel helpless. Massachusetts’ Section 35 law outlines the steps in which a qualified petitioner may ask on the behalf of another person to be put into treatment for substance abuse or a mental health facility through a judge’s orders.
The idea of forcing one into treatment crosses the minds of most anyone who stands by watching the destruction deteriorate the existence of a lifeforce. The addict doesn’t believe their situation calls for intervention while the family watches in shock and desperation for change. Many are unaware that each state in the nation does have a clause that does allow for involuntary committal for treatment.
Section 35 is a Massachusetts General Law that allows a judge to “involuntarily commit someone whose alcohol or drug use puts themselves, or others, at risk.” Qualified petitioners are asked to provide a strong a case with proof, showing the court why treatment should be imposed on an adult who is legally allowed to make their own decisions pertaining to their own health. Statements from family or friends, police and mental health professionals can be used as evidence to this effect. Petitions for committals are available at local court houses throughout the state.
The current law allows an individual to be placed into an inpatient substance abuse program for up to 90 days, but the person’s commitment to the program cannot be forced. The locations vary, and if the judge chooses a licensed treatment facility whose beds are full, the location can be changed to the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center in Plymouth, or even in a unit at a correctional facility.
Last year, an additional proposal by Gov. Charlie Baker made extensions to Section 35 through a bill called the CARE Act which strengthens research leading to evidence-based treatment and expanded access to naloxone, a drug used to treat overdoses in emergencies. The bill also improves oversight of treatment programs and facilities and prohibits programs from cherry picking patients based on their insurance.
The CARE act expanded Section 35 in a few ways, by authorizing medical professionals to arrange involuntary confinement for up to 72 hours, without a judicial hearing. If a clinical professional is not available, the CARE Act also authorizes police officers to restrain and transport people to “an appropriate treatment facility” without a judge’s order.
Some said this would place doctors in an uncomfortable and flawed position, and ultimately discourage people from seeking medical attention. Others argued there needed to be more evidence showing the effectiveness of involuntary committal. Those only reserved for 3 days of treatment feared that effective treatment could not be provided within 72 hours and potentially lead the released addict out into the world in “dope sick” state. However, despite those concerns, these measures have made an impact on Massachusetts opioid overdoses, which are now in decline in certain areas.
But people like Lynn Iadicola, a member of Partners for a Healthier Community’s Substance Abuse Task Force with some painful experiences helping a loved one of her own who was addicted, explains,” I consider the section to be the route that many families or friends of addicts take when they’re at their wit’s end. It’s a last resort. One hopes a person doesn’t get to the point where there is no other choice in order to save their life.”
Iadicola volunteers as an advisor at the Fall River District Court to families about how to utilize the section 35 process. She speaks to groups interested in the law and answers questions and provides guidance on the process for those desperate to help their loved one. “I try to answer their questions about the process and advise them about what they need to do. It’s always a hard to decision to file a commitment petition but in some cases it seems to be their last hope.”
Stephanie Perry, a registered nurse and addiction specialist based in the emergency room at St. Anne’s Hospital, and co-chair of Partners’ Substance Abuse Task Force, meets with family members frequently at the hospital and through the home visits overseen by Project Re-Connect to make contact with people who have overdosed. “Section 35 is a tool we can suggest to families that have tried everything else. I see their desperation and know how hard it is for them to see their loved ones struggle. These decisions are not easy for families, but often make the difference between life and death.”
Source : The Recover Newsroom