States Study Civil Commitments for Opioid Addicts

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Amid an opioid addiction epidemic that is killing more than 90 Americans every day, there is a movement to make it easier for relatives and health care providers to secure court orders quickly that would forcibly confine and treat people who are addicted to drugs, Stateline reports. Most states have civil commitment laws designed to protect people with mental illness from themselves and others. Many of the laws include drug addiction and alcoholism as a justification for temporary confinement. In practice, most commitment laws have been ineffective when it comes to people who use heroin and other opioids. Judges have been leery of taking away a person’s civil liberties for what society has long perceived as a moral failing.

Unlike people with severe mental illness, people who are addicted to drugs typically retain the mental capacity to take care of their basic needs, even though the chronic disease alters the brain, making the person value drug use above all else. New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington are considering new civil commitment laws specifically designed for opioid use. Kentucky went back to the drawing board after failing to enact a commitment law for opioid addiction last year. In Massachusetts, the one state where civil commitment has been used extensively for opioid addiction, Gov. Charlie Baker wants to make it even more common. When they are in session, Massachusetts judges can approve civil commitments within an hour. But when an overdose occurs at night or on weekends, relatives or physicians seeking an order are out of luck. Addiction professionals generally agree that civil commitment can save lives. They argue that without effective treatment, confining people with an addiction may do more harm than good.

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