Involuntary commitment for opioid addicts

Jun 19, 2017

BY: CCNH-LFDA Highlights

In Massachusetts, it’s becoming an increasingly common practice: relatives or doctors petitioning courts to forcibly commit addicts at risk of opioid overdose for treatment. In fact, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced in May that he would seek to expand the policy, pushing for a bill that empowers emergency room doctors to hold patients for up to three days without a court order—an attempt to prevent at-risk individuals from being released on nights or weekends when courts aren’t in session.

Things are different across the border in New Hampshire, where state law expressly forbids involuntary commitment of drug addicts. That would change if SB 220, a bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, passes. The bill would add opioid abuse to the state’s criteria for involuntary commitment.

Those petitioning to have a patient or family member forced into treatment—also referred to as "civil commitment"—would have to show that the addiction had put the person at risk of an overdose or other bodily harm.

Supporters argue that the move would help save lives. They cite cases like that of Bubba Carter, who inspired Bradley’s bill. Carter’s parents tried to get their son to seek treatment for addiction, but he refused, then overdosed two weeks later. The family argue that if they had been able to force Bubba into treatment, he might still be alive.

However, opponents argue that involuntary commitment is a violation of civil rights. Others contend that forced treatment is unlikely to be effective unless the full range of services and medications are available and treatment is continued after the patient is released. Others express concerns about the cost, as the state picks up the tab any services involuntarily committed patients receive before being released.

Do you think New Hampshire should allow relatives or doctors to petition for opioid addicts to be involuntarily committed for treatment? Leave a comment and have your say.

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Senator, NH Senate (2009 - present), Majority Leader, NH Senate; Candidate, U.S. House of Representatives (2006, 2008); Representative, U.S.

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