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Editorial: Forced rehab wrong for opioid crisis

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OxyContin, in 80 mg pills, in a 2013 file image. (Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

OxyContin, in 80 mg pills, in a 2013 file image. (Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

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OxyContin, in 80 mg pills, in a 2013 file image. (Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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Bipartisanship is finally catching on in the state Senate, but the most recent product of this cooperation isn’t a productive piece of legislation.

In an act of desperation against Pennsylvania’s intensifying problems with opioid addiction, state Sen. Dom Costa, D-Allegheny, introduced an amendment to the Mental Health Procedures Act last Thursday. Senate Bill 391 would grant a spouse, relative or guardian of an accused drug addict the right to petition for the drug user’s involuntary commitment, according to a press release from the senator’s office. This would follow the same process that already exists to institutionalize mental health patients considered a danger to themselves or society.

According to Costa, the amendment would “put the resources in place to support [addicts’ families] in their time of need.”

Protecting both addicts and the people in their lives is a valid and noble goal, as is offering rehabilitation rather than incarceration. But the proposal doesn’t so much help in the fight against addiction as it merely gives families the power to put addicts away.

The senator and his supporters, on both sides of the aisle, may be supporting this legislation because of a dedication to addicts’ families. But forcing addicts into recovery does little to address the worst symptoms of the opioid crisis, and even less to address its root causes.

According to a 2010 study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the results of rehabilitation for addicts who don’t make the choice to be there themselves are ambiguous at best and detrimental at worst. What’s more, there is already-scarce space in the state’s public rehab facilities from those willingly there, and the act proposes no solution to creating additional space.

The Costa amendment ignores both inconvenient facts of the state’s rehab system and the addicts’ rights themselves in its sweeping range. The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has threatened to litigate the amendment if passed, citing the bill’s ease of misinterpretation.

“We have concerns about this approach undermining people’s fundamental rights to liberty,” ACLU spokesman Andy Hoover said on Monday.

Beyond the amendment’s dubious justifications, the organization pointed to parts of the legislation that were cause for concern. The bill’s language makes it unclear who it would consider an “immediate danger” to themselves or society, leaving the door open for abuses. What’s more, it would only require the signature of one doctor to medically prove that a person has an addiction.

It’s impossible to know whether Costa believes that his amendment will actually help addicts and their families in Pennsylvania, or if it’s just part of a political PR campaign. Either way, Senate Bill 391 falls far short of aiding families truly concerned with helping relatives with opioid addictions.

Sweeping problems under the rug is a long-running tradition in the state capitol. But doing the same with people suffering from opioid addiction is unacceptable.

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Editorial: Forced rehab wrong for opioid crisis