Bill creating court-ordered treatment for drug use divides recovery advocates

Rep. Colleen Madigan had planned to introduce a bill next year to introduce a court process for family members to coerce loved ones into substance treatment.

Then she experienced a personal tragedy and decided it couldn’t wait. Madigan’s bill was introduced after the deadline for new bills had expired, sparking an emotional public hearing in the state house on Wednesday.

Madigan, a Democrat from Waterville, said her sister died in January of complications from alcohol withdrawal. She said her sister had been sober for 15 years but relapsed after she was prescribed opiates to help cope with some health issues.

Madigan said the last two years of her sister’s life included repeated attempts to detox at home, followed by relapses, a process that repeatedly landed her in the hospital. Madigan believes her sister would be alive today if a Maine court case were brought to force people into substance treatment.

“I told Elana about the bill,” said Madigan, who originally planned to table the proposal next year. “I told her that she’d rather be mad at me for the rest of her life than die. She cried and said do it. She didn’t want to die. She was afraid that she would die. She asked me never to give her up. That is why I stand before you today.”

Madigan’s testimony, along with others who shared tragic stories of family members who needed help, brought tears to some members of the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

The bill, LD 2008, is a bicameral, bicameral, bipartisan bill with 10 co-sponsors, including House Speaker Ryan Fecteau and Senator Marianne Moore, R-Calais. It is based on a similar law in Kentucky. But the proposal – and its introduction late in the legislature – sparked concern from a number of groups, including advocates for recovery, mental health and domestic violence, and civil rights groups.

Restoration advocates are divided over the bill, with some opposed to the concept and others supporting the idea but raising concerns about the details. Some pointed to a lack of options for people who seek treatment voluntarily, let alone those who may be coerced into treatment. Others worried about constitutional rights. And the state’s court system questioned whether it could handle the additional caseload.

Courtney Allen, the policy director of the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project, was among those who urged lawmakers to slow the process and form a group to study the idea rather than try to pass legislation at the end of a busy legislative session .

“The recovery community is clearly divided on this issue,” Allen said. “It is important to understand that this is not often the case in our community. This tells us that this is a very sensitive topic that deserves a much bigger discussion in our community. We don’t want to be played off against each other. We ask your committee to give us time to resolve our differences.”

According to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws, Maine is already one of 37 states that have some laws allowing the involuntary commitment of adults who suffer from a substance abuse disorder or alcoholism. However, existing laws usually have strict requirements, such as Evidence that a person has threatened or attempted to harm themselves or another person, or is unable to take care of themselves or themselves, the alliance said.

Madigan’s bill would expand the obligation option under Maine law by allowing a loved one to enforce a court order to compel treatment if the substance use poses an imminent threat to the user or another person and two licensed treatment professionals recommend the treatment.

dr Ronald Springel, a retired addiction medicine doctor and member of the state overdose review panel, said he supports the bill because of the ubiquity of fentanyl. The powerful synthetic opioid responsible for most overdose deaths and has changed the calculus of harm reduction strategies designed to allow people to use substances safely until they are ready for treatment.

“Harm reduction now is more like being on death row,” Springel said. “We must recognize that now is the time for drastic action.”


The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine testified against the law, saying it raised concerns about the constitutional rights of people who use drugs or alcohol.

“No one wants their family members to be in pain,” said ACLU Policy Director Meagan Sway. “But the constitution is there even when we are in pain. The right to refuse medical treatment is a constitutional issue.”

Andrea Mancuso, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, also opposed the bill. She said she was concerned that domestic abusers, including estranged spouses and ex-partners, would try to take advantage of the provisions to exercise more control over their victims. And the court process would require victims to meet with their abusers, she said.

“Intimate partners who are abusive often attempt to portray those who victimize them as mentally ill or substance dependent in order to avoid responsibility for their own abusive behavior,” she said. “Domestic Violence Center advocates often help survivors whose abusive partners have coerced them into using illegal drugs, and used that addiction as a means to control the survivors, creating complex and devastating barriers to accessing help.”

Others raised practical concerns about the implementation of the proposal, such as B. Providing legal assistance to the person using drugs and covering treatment and legal costs.


Julie Finn, legislative analysis for the state Department of Justice, said county courts would need additional resources and staff to handle the increase in caseloads. Finn said the courts are already at full capacity and have a backlog of cases from the pandemic.

“The proposed legislation introduces a significant new judicial process that will include an ex parte hearing, a full hearing within 14 days, contempt hearings and possibly post-judgment hearings on whether to overturn the original order,” she said. “Due to the short time remaining in session and the complexity of the bill, the Justice Department is proposing that a study or advocacy group be convened to resolve some of the issues the bill raises and come to the next session with a new one.” to come back bill.”

Malory Shaughnessy, executive director of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, gave neutral testimony on the bill, saying it was too complicated to speak at this session. She noted that Kentucky law is subject to a constitutional challenge in court.

Shaughnessy said more treatment beds and outpatient services will be needed to meet current demand, let alone future demand when the law goes into effect.

“Prescribing treatment without a full continuum of care for access does not seem practical,” she said. “We need to fill the gaps in our care system.”

The Judiciary Committee is expected to schedule a working session in the coming days.

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