Should doctors be allowed to have addicted patients committed involuntarily to treatment facilities for 72 hours?


Ronald Sellon

Mansfield police chief

Ronald Sellon.

Each year, more and more families lose loved ones to opioid overdose. For 15 consecutive years, an increasing number of parents, brothers, cousins, and best friends have watched their loved one’s addiction spiral to its tragic end, while helplessly trying to save them.

Recognizing that the traditional policing model did not work, police departments have shifted their response, utilizing organizations like the SAFE Coalition that provide community volunteer teams to help locate beds in rehabilitation facilities for addicts. However, more assistance is necessary. Thankfully, the CARE Act recent introduced by Governor Charles Baker and the statutory tools it brings are here to help.

Overdoses and addicts hitting rock bottom do not occur at times of convenience. Jim Derick, president of the SAFE Coalition (, often speaks to frightened parents and loved ones of addicts who refuse treatment and are clearly in imminent danger of overdosing and harming themselves. Many of these calls that the group receives come on weekends or holidays, times when the courts are closed. The provision in the governor’s bill allowing for 72-hour committals to treatment facilities is a valuable tool that communities can use when families need it most.


Some opponents of that proposal cite data showing that people forced into treatment are twice more likely to die of an overdose. But this statistic ignores that people forced into treatment are, by nature, at higher risk than those who go into it voluntarily. Their deaths are not a result of being forced into treatment but more an indication of their unwillingness to continue it. Since they are often long-term users, these patients are usually in worse shape going into treatment and are more prone to relapse after their committal.

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Someone who voluntarily accepts treatment for addiction is already aware of his or her problem and therefore less likely to engage in dangerous behavior willingly.

However, by nature, addicts do not readily and voluntarily accept treatment when they need it most. The CARE Act empowers everyone to help those who can’t or won’t help themselves. Don’t we owe it to them and their loved ones to try?


Rahsaan Hall

Brockton resident; racial justice director of the ACLU of Massachusetts

Rahsaan Hall.

For more than four decades, America has been trying to arrest and coerce its way to decreased substance abuse and addiction. This approach has disproportionately impacted black and Latino communities. Today’s opioid epidemic proves the futility of that approach. Efforts to reduce addiction through tougher criminal penalties have failed, and in myriad ways. Through deaths, nonfatal overdoses, and disruptions to jobs, families, and neighborhoods, every community in Massachusetts has been impacted by the growing opioid crisis.

If Massachusetts is serious about ending the opioid crisis, we need a new approach, one that invests in public health rather than in prisons. An effective plan would include treatment on demand and social services that do not take place in correctional settings and do not depend on coercion and imprisonment. Why? Because research shows that people subjected to involuntary commitment are twice as likely to later die of an overdose as those who receive voluntary treatment, according to a state report.


The opioid bill recently filed by Governor Charles Baker includes a proposal that would empower doctors to demand that drug users enter a 72-hour lockdown, which can be easily extended into long-term, coerced treatment in a secured facility if medical staff petition a judge to allow for it. Mandating detention and treatment for individuals suffering from serious addiction is yet another ineffective, and medically dangerous, approach to combating substance-use disorder.

The truth is we can’t mandate or coerce our way out of addiction. Along with prevention, the best way for us to reduce the rate of addiction is to provide treatment on demand. That means having beds available for people struggling with addiction when they ask for help, and making social services beyond detox -- such as job training, anger management, parenting classes, and other skill-building opportunities -- readily accessible to the people who need it.

Coercion kills; public health promotes public safety. That is why we work every day at the ACLU of Massachusetts to advocate for addressing addiction with effective public health interventions, like expanding community-based treatment options, making more treatment beds available, and funding social services that support successful treatment.

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As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at