EDITORIAL: Huge step in opioid war
Times-Tribune - 2/23/2017
Feb. 23--As the opioid epidemic rages, people seeking help for addicted family members face a cruel irony. They may seek involuntary mental health treatment for a relative who threatens suicide, but can only watch a family member slowly commit suicide by opioid addiction.
Now state Sen. Jay Costa, an Allegheny County Democrat, has introduced a bill that would allow family members to force a close relative into drug rehabilitation treatment.
The state Mental Health Procedures Act allows for involuntary commitment to a mental health facility, for an emergency evaluation, when a person has been diagnosed to be mentally ill and threatens to harm himself or others or to commit suicide. It specifically precludes the procedure for people who are alcohol- or drug-dependent, unless they otherwise have been diagnosed as being mentally ill.
Costa points out that the state mental health law has not been amended since 1978, despite growing addiction and recognition of addiction as a mental disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders now includes diagnoses of "substance abuse disorders."
Under the bill, a family would be able to seek emergency commitment of a family member under the same procedure that applies to other mental health disorders. A court would rely on a physician's evaluation to determine how long the addicted person would remain in treatment.
The bill justly is controversial. It is a huge step for the state to authorize anyone's loss of freedom. That is why the American Civil Liberties Union opposes the legislation.
Yet nearly 10 people a day die in Pennsylvania due to opioid overdoses. The scope of the problem requires extraordinary action by the Legislature. Lawmakers should work with the ACLU to ensure that the procedure includes adequate due process and appeals components. But they should pass the bill, as their counterparts have passed similar measures in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, to provide hope that fewer Pennsylvania families will have to watch loved ones die for lack of a mechanism to help them.
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