Is Involuntary Drug Treatment Helpful Or Harmful?

Involuntary drug treatment

Addicts often need high-level and structured forms of supportive care, but some states are deciding that forcing it on them may be the best approach.

Both Washington and New Hampshire are currently considering bills that would allow for the involuntary commitment of addicts. The New Hampshire bill is focusing specifically on opioid addiction, calling for involuntarily commitment when a person has taken “opioid substances” that changes their behavior in such a way that suggests they “lack the capacity to care for his or her own welfare,” and that the person might die or seriously harm themselves if they are not committed.

Thirty-seven states and Washington, D.C., already allow this, but most require it to be proved that the addict has become a danger to themselves or others.

“We are clearly a ‘live free or die’ state and we believe in individual responsibility,” said Senator Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, who introduced the bill. “But responsibility falls on [everyone] who sees someone who is addicted to substances, which is an illness, and needs help. And sometimes people don’t want to seek help and then it becomes our responsibility to help those people. We ought to be able to have this tool to help people who are reluctant to seek out help. I don’t think there is any disagreement about that.”

Meanwhile, the Washington bill calls for involuntary commitment if a person has already been hospitalized for substance abuse, arrested three times in the past year on substance abuse-related charges or has three or more visible track marks. This would fall under a category of being “gravely disabled” by their addiction.

Families of addicts in both states have expressed support for the proposed bills, declaring that they’ve done all they can within the system to help loved ones and that extreme measures need to be taken.

“We don’t have time to wait,” said Jack Carter, whose son died of an opioid overdose. “There’s no reason for more families to bury their kids. These are our children. Something has to get done. President [Donald] Trump called New Hampshire ground zero for the opioid crisis. It’s time to step up and do something for these families, for us, for the kids of our future.”