Bill could bring hope to Pa. families with members addicted to drugs

Pennsylvania Senator Jay Costa introduced the bill, which would allow families to force their loved ones into treatment


SHARON, Pa. (WKBN) – The opioid epidemic is hitting Pennsylvania hard and those addicted to drugs aren’t the only ones affected. A state lawmaker introduced legislation to help families with a loved one who uses drugs.

“Addiction is a disease whether people want to believe it or not,” said Gloria Macklay, president of the Mercer County Coalition for Drug Awareness.

Senator Jay Costa (D – Allegheny) said under current law, if someone has been diagnosed with an addiction and refuses treatment, there is nothing their family can do.

He introduced legislation that would allow families to seek an involuntary commitment so their sibling, child, or parent can get help. He wants it to restore hope.

Macklay was on the panel for WKBN’s Heroin Town Hall Crisis in November. She supports the legislation, saying it’s “huge.”

It follows the Mental Health Procedures Act, which allows a family to involuntary commit a loved one with a diagnosed mental illness.

Costa said the process starts with filing a petition with a county administrator.

“‘I’ve got my son or my daughter, my husband or my wife, whatever is addicted. I’ve tried everything, can’t do anything anymore. We need her or him to be involuntary committed.'”

Next, the individual has to go through an assessment.

“After that, there will be a hearing, due process provided, and that individual would then be subject to the involuntary treatment, whatever the physician, hearing examiner recommend,” Costa said.

Treatment would vary on a case-by-case basis and a person would not be able to check out of treatment.

“If they get out somehow, again, they subject themselves to potentially being in violation and contempt,” Costa said. “Then the court can draw them back in and either reorder them to go back or incarcerate them if it’s warranted.”

“That’s amazing because at this point, they can go in and they can say, ‘I’m leaving,'” Macklay said.

Some recovering addicts said making the decision to stop using is a big one, and a person has to be ready. Costa said his legislation would typically apply to people who aren’t ready to stop using.

“These are going to be incidents where folks do not want to go and the goal, I think, is to hopefully get them in a place where we can work toward that end.”

Macklay said she hopes it will be a big asset but realizes it could backfire.

“It could work the other way around as well. They can say, ‘I like doing what I’m doing and I’m not stopping.'”

Costa said the person or family would be responsible for paying, which is part of the petition process. An individual would have to prove the means to pay for it or provide proof of insurance that would cover treatment.

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