The last thing Lizabeth Loud wanted, a month from giving birth, was to be forced into treatment for her heroin and prescription painkiller addiction.
But her mother saw no other choice and sought a judge’s order to have her committed against her will. Three years later, Loud said her month in state prison, where Massachusetts sent civilly committed women until recent reforms, was the wake-up call she needed.
“I was really miserable when I was there,” the 32-year-old Boston-area resident said. “That was one bottom I wasn’t willing to revisit again.”
An Associated Press check of data in some key states has found that the use of involuntary commitment for drug addiction is rising. And in many places, lawmakers are trying to create or strengthen laws allowing authorities to force people into treatment.
But critics, including many doctors, law enforcement officials, and civil rights advocates, caution that success stories like Loud’s are an exception. Research suggests involuntary commitment largely doesn’t work and could raise the danger of overdose for those who relapse after treatment.
And expanding civil commitment laws, critics argue, could also violate due process rights, overwhelm emergency rooms and confine people in prison-like environments, where treatment sometimes amounts to little more than forced detox without medications to help mitigate withdrawal symptoms.
At least 35 states currently have provisions that allow families or medical professionals to petition a judge, who can then order an individual into treatment if they deem the person a threat to themselves or others. But the laws haven’t always been frequently used.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a law last year allowing police officers to civilly commit a person into treatment for up to three days. In Washington state, legislation that took effect April 1 grants mental health professionals similar short-term emergency powers. In both states, a judge’s order would still be required to extend the treatment.
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