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Addiction specialists at Boston Medical Center stand with community activists and with family members of people with substance use disorders in calling for reform to our current system of involuntary commitments (“Families demand answers in 3 jail deaths,” Page A1, Aug. 18). Nothing exemplifies our society’s criminalization of addiction better than our current Section 35 system, which subjects individuals to the most toxic components of our legal system, without their having even committed a crime. Ayesha’s Johnson’s tragic death showed us how desperate the need for reforms is.

No patient should be held in any correctional setting, whether it’s a holding area in a county house of correction, where Ayesha Johnson was when she died in custody, or a prison setting, as many men held involuntarily under a Section 35 commitment will experience. It is time we as a society evaluate Section 35 for what it is: a stigmatizing, dangerous legal mechanism that, in some cases, can leave patients without immediate and necessary medical care.


We must better meet the needs of our community by finding humane, ethical, and evidenced-based approaches to addiction and the related social needs. We need a public health response rooted in health equity and research without using punitive approaches to addiction.

Dr. Miriam Komaromy

Medical director

Grayken Center for Addiction

Deb Goldfarb

Director of behavioral health - population health

Boston Medical Center