Forced addiction treatment could be death sentence during COVID-19


Jan 20, 2021
CommonWealth Magazine
By John Messinger and Leo Beletsky

State must move to end involuntary civil commitment

AS THE COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate communities across this country, correctional facilities have become one of the most explosive epicenters of this public health crisis. Despite calls to rapidly depopulate jails and prisons, governors and correctional officials across the country are asserting that people behind bars and correctional staff could be kept “safe” inside, during an infectious disease outbreak. This magical thinking has led to disastrous results, with thousands now infected and the death toll mounting. 

Everyone confined to congregate settings against their will is at risk and deserves protection, prevention. and care. But one of the biggest tragedies of COVID-19 behind bars has been in correctional institutions housing people who have not been convicted of a crime. This includes thousands of residents in Massachusetts — and other states – who are being involuntarily held because of their addiction.  

One example of this tragedy is the recent outbreak at the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center (MASAC) in Plymouth involving 28 patients and 11 employees. The treatment facility at MASAC serves individuals placed into treatment for substance misuse under a law in Massachusetts known as Section 35. This law allows others — most typically family members, physicians, or police officers — to petition a court to forcibly detain an individual deemed to be a danger to themselves or others as a result of their substance use and involuntarily place them in treatment. 

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