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Civil Commitment of those with Substance Abuse problems
Using Section 35 should be a last resort for families after all other options for reasoning and interventions have been tried as it creates many family issues that are hard to repair later, however sometimes this is the only way how to get someone help.

Free Legal Assistance with Section 35 petitions through MA Bar Association Helpline: 1-844-843-6221

Article from local newspaper on this subject - When Addiction Calls For Dramatic Action (June 4, 2014 MV Times)

Currently there are two issues with using Section 35 on Martha's Vineyard, which complicate the process:
1. We do not have judge present at the Dukes County Courthouse all the time, therefore the petition needs to be forwarded to a judge of island to decide if he will issue an order of commitment and to make final decision after evaluation is made;
2. We do not have (forensic) psychiatrist or psychologist on island to do the evaluation that is needed as part of the process. Therefore currently "patients" are being sent for an evaluation to Falmouth (escorted by the Sheriff's staff).

The Process
These adults may request the district court to commitment someone to treatment under Section 35:
A spouse , blood relative, or guardian
Any police officer, physician, or court official.
They must go to the local court and fill out papers. In legal language, they must "file a written petition for an order of commitment." Here are the next steps in order:
  • The court reviews the facts and decides whether or not to issue an order of commitment
  • If yes, then the person who is the subject of the petition must come to court that day. The court issues them either a summons or a warrant of apprehension.
        Summons - a written notice delivered to the person
Warrant - allows police to pick the person up. A warrant can be issued only during court hours. Police will pick a person up only if the court is open.
  • If a warrant is issued and the person is picked up, they will be handcuffed, taken to court, and put in a holding cell to wait for a hearing.
- The person has the right to a lawyer and to present their own experts.
- The court will arrange for a (forensic) psychiatrist or psychologist to examine them
The court will review medical facts (evidence) from the exam and other evidence that relates to the case.
The court can order commitment only if:
There is a medical diagnosis of alcoholism or substance abuse, AND
A likelihood of serious harm to the subject or others as a result of the substance abuse exists.
So, what do you mean by "likelihood of serious harm?"
To meet the criteria for civil commitment, “likelihood of serious harm” must exceed what harm can be reasonably assumed to exist, when any individual abuses alcohol or other drugs. The statute defines “likelihood of serious harm” as the following:
  • a substantial risk of physical harm to the person as manifested by evidence of, threats of, or attempts at, suicide or serious bodily harm; or
  • a substantial risk of physical harm to other persons as manifested by evidence of homocidal or other violent behavior or evidence that others are placed in reasonable fear of violent behavior and serious physical harm to them; or
  • a very substantial risk of physical impairment or injury to the person himself as manifested by evidence that such person’s judgment is so effected that he is unable to protect himself in the community and that reasonable provision for his protection is not available in the community (G.L.c. 123 δ 1) 
The "likelihood of serious harm" must be directly related to the substance abuse and must be a current threat.
The judge orders her/him to a licensed inpatient substance abuse treatment facility such as, the Women's Addiction Treatment Center (WATC) facility in New Bedford, the Men's Addiction Treatment Center (MATC) in Brockton or another community treatment center. If a bed is not available the commitment could be to:
Females: MCI-Framingham.
Males: Massachusetts Alcohol Substance Abuse Center (MSAC) treatment facility in MCI Bridgewater

Once committed to a facility, an assessment will be completed regarding the person's need for detoxification. The length of time in a detoxification unit varies depending on the substance she/he is using, the amount of use, the time since her/his last use, and her/his overall health.

Once detoxification is complete she/he will receive rehabilitation services. This may or may not be in the same facility. Moreover, in the rehabilitation phase, the individual learns more about addiction, how to stay sober, and how to prevent relapse. Counselors then encourage individuals to engage in aftercare treatment services and supports.

Some individuals may have complicated medical conditions that cannot be appropriately treated in a standard detoxification unit. They may require what is called a "Level 4" program which would be in a hospital setting, if they have conditions such as the following:
Cardiovascular disorders that require monitoring
Acute liver disease
Biomedical problems that need stabilization and 24 hour medical management, observation, or evaluation
Infectious open sores
Major head trauma or loss of consciousness that requires monitoring
Medical conditions that require a higher level of medications

If a client has a psychiatric disorder which needs to be stabilized and/or managed to be able to treat the substance addiction they will have to be referred to a psychiatric hospital. Some examples of these disorders or symptoms are:
Bipolar Disorder
Major Depressive Disorder
Symptoms such as psychosis (delusions or hallucinations) mania, acute depression, suicidal or homicidal

The length of the civil commitment will vary with the severity of the client's addiction and the client's response to treatment. The commitment cannot exceed 90 days. Usually it is for 30 days.

Recovery is a process and detoxification is a start. For some individuals, a civil commitment to treatment begins their recovery. Others do not see a need to stop using alcohol or other drugs.

It is helpful for family and friends to learn about addiction and to understand the process of recovery.

Self-help organizations, such as AA, Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are resources for families and friends.
AA: 617-426-9444
Al-Anon: (508) 366-0556
Nar-Anon: 800.477.6291
The Massachusetts Substance Abuse Information and Education Helpline: 800-327-5050. (24 hours / 7 days / week)

Yes, you may file a new petition. However, it is not automatic that she/he will be committed based on a history of having been committed before. The statute (law) addresses individuals whose substance use results in the current likelihood of serious harm. It does not address many individuals whose chronic use of alcohol or other drugs may have dire long term consequences.



The County of Dukes County PO Box 190, Edgartown, MA 02539
Phone: 508.696.3840    Fax: 508.696.3841
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