Involuntary treatment is a controversial subject. In some states, someone can be forced to go to treatment by a judge, but this is not always a common scenario. However, in one state, a lawmaker has proposed a bill that would rely on mandated (sometimes involuntary) treatment to deal with the opiate epidemic. Under a law being considered in Pennsylvania, people who overdose and receive treatment from emergency services (such as paramedics) would be required to enroll in an addiction treatment program within 30 days of the incident or face jail time (Sun-Gazette.)

The Good Samaritan Law and Involuntary Treatment

Currently, most states have some version of the “Good Samaritan Law” on the books. While it has different names in different states, essentially this law protects drug users from being arrested when they report an overdose to emergency services. What it means is that if you call 911 to get someone help for an overdose, the police won’t arrest you or anyone else on-scene for possession of drugs or paraphernalia. The law doesn’t apply to more serious crimes or for people who may have a warrant out, but it does protect drug users from being charged with crimes when they try to get help for someone in crisis. The purpose of the law is to encourage drug users to call 911 for help when someone overdoses, instead of fleeing the scene because they are scared of being arrested.

While the Good Samaritan Law has likely saved lives by encouraging people to get help for their friends, the number of overdoses (mostly caused by opiates) has overwhelmed paramedics and police departments in many towns across the country. In response, some lawmakers are advocating for involuntary treatment for addicts.

Mandated Rehab?

A Pennsylvania state Senator has proposed a bill that might make involuntary treatment a common response to overdoses in the state. According to the Sun-Gazette, the proposed bill would change the Good Samaritan law. In order to avoid arrest, people who need emergency help for an overdose would have to enroll in a treatment program within 30 days of the incident. If they do not get help, they would not be immune from being charged with drug possession or related crimes.

According to the article published in the Sun-Gazette, this proposal was made because many times, people who overdose are revived and then decline treatment or help. Sometimes, they end up overdosing and receiving Narcan (an opiate overdose reversal drug) multiple times in short span. The law is intended to cut back on this trend, to reduce the pressure on paramedics and first responders, and to make a dent in the opiate addiction epidemic.

According to the article published in the Sun-Gazette, this proposal was made because many times, people who overdose are revived and then decline treatment or help. Sometimes, they end up overdosing and receiving Narcan (an opiate overdose reversal drug) multiple times in short span. The law is intended to cut back on this trend, to reduce the pressure on paramedics and first responders, and to make a dent in the opiate addiction epidemic.

Involuntary Treatment: Pros and Cons

Some people who overdose and survive are interested in seeking addiction treatment, while others are not. The law being considered by state senators in Pennsylvania is directed at people who don’t want help. In order to avoid arrest, addicts would have to check into treatment, whether they wanted help or not. In a sense, it’s a way to use involuntary treatment to get people the help that they need, even if they aren’t interested in it. But does it work?

Some people argue that involuntary treatment is ineffective because people need to be motivated and willing to get sober in order for it to be successful. When people are released from involuntary treatment, they argue, they will simply return to their old behavior.

However, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, research shows that involuntary treatment can be just as effective as chosen treatment. Sometimes, someone who is unwilling to get help at first may change their mind when they have access to care. Ultimately, treatment is the best way to help someone who suffers from a drug or alcohol addiction.

The main problem with the proposed bill in Pennsylvania is that some people may not be able to afford treatment, and could end up being arrested simply because they didn’t have the resources to get help. Ultimately though, the hope is that change the Good Samaritan law will prevent multiple overdoses and start to address the root cause of the opiate epidemic- the fact that people need professional care to deal with drug addiction.

For people who need drug treatment, professional facilities such as the Discovery Institute provide the high-quality psychiatric and therapeutic care necessary to recover. If you or someone you love wants help to stop using drugs or drinking, call Discovery today at 888-616-7177 for information about treatment options.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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