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One state forces opioid abusers to get help. Will others follow?

Christine Vestal, on

Published in News & Features

Baker's proposal would amend the state's existing court-involved civil commitment law (known as Section 35), and give designated receiving facilities up to 72 hours to engage patients in treatment.

Opposed by major medical groups as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Massachusetts bill is part of the governor's comprehensive plan to stem the state's raging opioid epidemic.

Last year, Indiana enacted a law calling for limited use of emergency commitment in three counties for people who are revived from a drug overdose. The program, still in the development phase, requires counties to keep records on how many patients are committed, what type of treatment they receive, and how many are completing treatment.

Critics in Indiana, Kentucky and Massachusetts argue that a shortage of treatment slots would make it difficult to find a facility capable of emergency care.

"One of the frustrations is that people who voluntarily seek treatment often can't access care when they need it," said Dr. Sarah Wakeman, who heads addiction services at Massachusetts General Hospital. "I wouldn't suggest that involuntary treatment is the way to go."

Florida has long had a disproportionate share of the nation's rehabilitation centers and residential addiction treatment facilities, but as the opioid epidemic worsens, the state's treatment capacity has been stretched thin.

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Still, the state has designated a handful of treatment facilities to accept Marchman Act patients in Hillsborough County. Professionals at those places say they rarely have to turn away a patient because of a lack of capacity.

"We may not be able to give them the level of service they need, particularly if they need a bed," said Mary Lynn Ulrey, CEO of DACCO, a community-based treatment service provider here in Tampa. "But we immediately engage them in an appropriate level of service and move them into a more intensive level of service within a few days."

Tampa is one of only four places in Florida with a locked central receiving facility where police can take adults and children with mental illness and addiction and have them evaluated for treatment.

Elsewhere in Florida and in much of the country, hospital emergency departments, crisis centers and addiction treatment centers serve as the first stop for police who rescue opioid users from an overdose. Many of those places are unlocked and ill-equipped to perform an emergency addiction assessment on an unwilling drug user.


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