Costa Introduces Legislation to Support Families Affected by Opioid Epidemic

Harrisburg – February 16, 2017 – Committed to the fight against opioid addiction, State Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) today introduced legislation that would provide support to families seeking emergency treatment for loved ones.

“Families are suffering – it’s as simple as that,” Costa said. “They desperately are seeking emergency treatment options for their loved ones but without their consent, have no opportunity to provide the help they need.”

“We can’t leave families powerless to addiction. We have to put the resources in place to support them in their time of need.”

Senate Bill 391 amends the Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA) giving families the opportunity to seek involuntary commitments of loved ones for treatment for alcohol and drug abuse. While Pa law currently allows for involuntary commitment of those diagnosed with a mental illness, the current statute does not consider substance abuse disorder as a mental disorder.

Amending the Mental Health Procedures Act will provide authority for a spouse, relative or guardian to petition for the involuntary commitment of an individual for treatment purposes. Under the proposed law, families could petition their county administrator to determine whether an individual suffers from addiction and is a threat to themselves or others.

If such a determination is made, the individual would appear at a healthcare facility for a hearing conducted by a mental health review officer, ensuring the patient is notified of rights and examined by a physician. The attending physician would then determine the length of stay necessary based on medical expert opinions, rather than a pre-determined time period under the current statute.

“It’s heart-wrenching to me that under current law, if your loved one has been diagnosed with an addiction and refuses treatment but desperately needs support, there is nothing you can do,” Costa said. “As a parent, I can’t imagine a situation where you could feel more hopeless. If nothing else, this legislation is there to provide help and restore hope to families.

The legislation, known as “Casey’s Law”, closely resembles a measure passed in 2004 in Kentucky after the death of 23-year-old Matthew Casey Wethington. Matthew died in 2002 despite repeated unsuccessful attempts by his family to help him gain access to treatment. Several states in the grip of the opioid epidemic have also moved similar legislation including Indiana and Ohio.

-30-