Pa. House committee approves bill allowing involuntary commitment for overdose patients

     House committee approves bill allowing overdose patients to be held against will (WITF Photo)

    House committee approves bill allowing overdose patients to be held against will (WITF Photo)

    A state House panel has approved a proposal to provide some help to those trying to stop drug overdose deaths.

    But some are also concerned the measure creates other problems.

    Sponsored by Republican Representative Matt Baker of Tioga County, the bill would allow medical experts to force someone who has overdosed to stay in treatment for up to 72 hours.

    He says he’s heard too many stories about people walking out of an emergency room after being stabilized, only to overdose again.

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    “What we’re trying to deal with right here, right now is the exigent circumstances of family members losing their loved ones because nothing’s being done. They’re being treated, essentially, at these emergency rooms, and released,” says Baker.

    Other states have similar laws, including Florida and Ohio.

    But Baker’s proposal faces opposition from the Pennsylvania College of Emergency Physicians, which says there’s no proof involuntary commitment works. It also raises questions about legal liability, which is already an issue when involuntary commitment is used for those experiencing a mental health crisis.

    Democratic Representative Ed Gainey of Pittsburgh says recovery organizations should have a say too.

    “Are we moving too fast and do we need to vet this in a way to make sure we’re moving in a direction that is going to be useful to everybody?” adds Gainey. “There’s a difference between being smart and wise. Smartly, we can put a bill together that we think will have some impact. But without the wisdom of those that’s going through it and work with this population daily, we would be missing a great opportunity to include them.”

    Baker says he hears those concerns, but notes people need options to address the opioid crisis.

    “What we’re trying to do is to move the football down the field in this first step, to try to get help for these folks,” he says.

    A similar piece of legislation is sitting in a Senate committee.

    Baker says the state Department of Health supports the measure. He also says he’s interested in considering another piece of legislation that would allow involuntary commitment for outpatient treatment as well.

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