Forced Rehab Isn’t the Solution

Massachusetts wants to expand its civil commitment law for addiction, but it may make matters worse.

January 9, 2018
Tonic (Vice)
By Maia Szalavitz

What can family members do if a loved one is daily risking death, using street opioids that are frequently contaminated by super potent fentanyls? In some states, legislators are considering new legislation or reviving old laws to expand civil commitment—immediate removal to forced rehab, often under lockdown—to try to help. Massachusetts already uses the process aggressively, committing thousands every year. But if the Bay State’s experience is anything to go by, the approach may actually make matters worse.

In hard-hit Massachusetts, an estimated 6,500 people were involuntarily committed for addiction in fiscal year 2016 alone.

“We’re seeing more and more people who want treatment using Section 35 because it is the only way they can get it,” says Bonnie Tenneriello, a staff attorney with Prisoners’ Legal Services, one of the groups that successfully sued the state to close the women’s “treatment” facility and the one where men with addictions were kept alongside sex offenders. “These are not people who need to be forced. They want it because there are no resources in the community.”

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