20 Oct NJ Bill: Should Addicts Be Forced into Treatment?
The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) — the American Psychiatric Association’s gold standard textbook for clinicians in the field of behavioral and mental health — refers to “substance use disorder” as a mental illness. Now, the laws in at least one state may be catching up to reflect this still relatively young classification of addiction as a mental illness.
Last month, the New Jersey Assembly passed a bill that would give judges the power to force addicts into involuntary treatment, in much the same way that under certain circumstances many states now treat the mentally ill against their will. Bill A3227, drafted by New Jersey Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, sends addicts deemed a danger to themselves or others into mandatory treatment, per a judge’s ruling.
Support for the Involuntary Treatment Bill
Parents like Alba Herrera of Levittown, Pennsylvania, who lost her son Nicholas Rohdes to a heroin overdose, were instrumental in the measure’s passage. Herrera describes her son as your average Little League kid growing up next door, before the allure of heroin ultimately cost him his life. Rohdes had overdosed at home the same day he left a recovery house for addicts, having reportedly been kicked out.
“He kissed me goodnight, told me he loved me and went to bed. The next morning my son was dead from a heroin overdose,” Herrera told NJ.com.
Herrera joins other parents, like Peggy Farah of Jersey City, in lobbying for legislative changes that would require addicts to be treated just like those with other mental illnesses. (Farah lost her only child Ben, 24, to an accidental overdose.)
New Bill Joins Other Drug Addiction Legislation
The New Jersey bill comes at a time when a whole package of some 21 newly introduced bills aims to address the state’s drug epidemic. In 2013, more than 33,000 people sought treatment for heroin or opiate abuse in New Jersey — nearly double the number of those who sought help in 2006. And, more than 557 people in New Jersey died from heroin overdoses — with scores more dying from other opiate overdoses — ranking New Jersey above even New York City for rate of drug-related deaths.
That bipartisan-supported legislation, led by Senator Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex) and introduced last month, will strengthen and expand substance abuse education and services, and signifies a historically unprecedented response to substance use disorders. The various bills would do a number of things, among them:
- Increase Medicaid reimbursements to treatment providers and enlarge the Medicaid program’s availability to prisoners awaiting trial
- Require state colleges and universities to provide substance abuse housing recovery options and make the Department of Education reevaluate its drug prevention curriculum
- Enforce the mandatory participation of all physicians in a state prescription monitoring program which would monitor prescription drug abuse
- Increase funding for substance abuse prevention efforts by $5 million
- Centralize the administration of treatment facilities under the state’s Department of Human Services
- Improve collection and information gathering regarding overdose figures
- Create an annual report card to evaluate and monitor the quality of care by substance abuse treatment facilities around the state
If they pass in New Jersey’s Senate and are signed into law by Governor Chris Christie, these measures will usher in a new approach to drug addiction—as a problem better addressed by medical professionals and mental health providers than by law enforcement.
Meanwhile, the state’s exponential spread of new treatment facilities in recent years has yet to close the gap in recovery there. Of the 179,000 people in New Jersey abusing illicit drugs in 2013, only a quarter received treatment, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; and, experts say, recovery options still remain limited.
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