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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: January 26, 2017 03:37 PM
From: Senator Jay Costa
To: All Senate members
Subject: Casey's Law -- Involuntary Commitment for Substance Abuse Disorders
In the near future, I will be introducing legislation that amends the Mental Health Procedures Act to allow families the opportunity to seek involuntary commitment of loved ones for treatment for alcohol and drug abuse. Several states in the grip of the opioid epidemic have moved to make this important change including Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio with “Casey’s Law.”

Substance abuse disorder is a medically recognized disorder under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. While Pennsylvania law allows for involuntary commitment of those diagnosed with a mental illness, the current statute does not consider substance use disorder as a mental disorder. This means a parent or relative who desperately needs emergency treatment for a loved one with drug addiction is not permitted to use the existing involuntary commitment procedures to save his or her child who refuses treatment. As we have seen too many times, failing to seek treatment for substance use disorder may result in involvement with the criminal justice system, overdose and even death. Often times, family members, who want to help, are powerless to do anything as they cannot control the behavior of the person suffering from substance use disorder.

My legislation will amend the Mental Health Procedures Act to provide authority for a spouse, relative or guardian to petition a county administrator to allow for the involuntary commitment of such an individual so that they may begin to receive the treatment necessary to address their substance abuse. My bill is largely based on Casey’s Laws with additional due process protections for the involuntary commitment procedure under the Act. A family member would be able to file a petition with their county administrator, which would determine whether the individual suffers from alcohol and drug abuse and is a threat to himself or others. If so, the county administrator would issue a warrant to require the individual to appear for a hearing at a health care facility conducted by a mental health review officer. This process will ensure the patient is notified of all of his rights, the patient is examined by the facility or court’s physician as well as his own physician before the hearing begins, and the length of stay is based on several medical expert opinions rather than a pre-determined time period under the statute.

With the introduction of this legislation, I intend to continue working towards increasing the number of facilities, space and resources that will be available to those needing treatment under this bill. As with the Casey’s Laws passed in other states, payment for treatment ordered under this involuntary commitment process would be the responsibility of the petitioner. This may include the petitioner’s insurer or the petitioner’s out-of-pocket costs. I am aware that Casey’s Law may not reach all parents, relatives, and their loved ones in need of help yet. As such, I will continue to work on legislation to expand availability to parents and relatives who may not have the means to pay for this process.

In the meantime, we must begin to provide options to families of those who have long suffered from opioid and other substance abuse and addiction.

I respectfully request that you join me in sponsoring this important legislation.

Introduced as SB391