Blogs from November, 2010


…call for desperate measures 

The Marchman Act:  Emergency help for a drug-addicted family member.

Recently I heard of a terrible story involving a promising college student who became addicted to illegal narcotics and dropped out of school.  She began engaging in behavior that was inconsistent with that of her prior twenty years, yet despite her obvious decline, her parents were powerless to stop it.  It seems that every time they sought help from the authorities they were reminded that, legally, their daughter was an adult.  If she were in possession of drugs they could arrest her, but there weren’t other options presented.  Meanwhile, her abuse of narcotics eventually led to her death.  Needless to say, her parents were devastated.

While I did not know the parents personally, the story bothered me.  Here were two individuals who deeply loved their only child, yet lost her because of her drug addiction and their perceived inability to intervene. 

Here in Florida, the legislature does provide a mechanism to help those whose drug addiction prevents them from helping themselves: the Marchman Act.  The Marchman Act (codified at Chapter 397 of the Florida Statutes) provides for voluntary and involuntary admissions.  In order for an involuntary admission (against the will of the individual) there must be a good-faith basis to believe the person is impaired by substance abuse and, as a result of this impairment, has lost the power of self-control with respect to substance abuse.  Further, said person must also pose a threat to him or herself or another, or the individual’s judgment is so impaired because of the substance abuse that they are not capable of appreciating the need for substance abuse services and making an informed decision regarding the same.     

 The question arises, if one has a loved one in dire need of help because of substance abuse, what do they do?  While there are now television shows dedicated to intervening in the lives of those addicted to substances (both legal and illegal), it would not be prudent to wait on Hollywood to attempt to rescue a loved one.  In Florida, the individual’s spouse, guardian, or relative (this is not meant to be all-inclusive as law enforcement can initiate as well), or in the case of a minor the parent or legal guardian, can file a Petition for Involuntary Assessment under the Marchman Act.  This Petition is filed with the Clerk of Court in the applicable County and must be set for hearing within ten days.  Service of process is made upon the person abusing the substance by a Deputy Sheriff and a General Magistrate presides over the hearing.   If the Court finds it appropriate, it may enter an order for Involuntary Assessment.  At that time there are two options: 1) if arrangements have been made with an appropriate private facility the “patient” will be taken there otherwise 2) the “patient” will be taken to a public facility licensed by the Department of Children and Families (DCF).  The facility will assess the individual for a period not to exceed five days and then submit its written assessment to the Court. 

After the assessment is completed, if the facility finds it appropriate, a Petition for Involuntary Treatment can be filed.  This requires another hearing before a General Magistrate, who can enter an order for involuntary treatment for a period of up to sixty days.  However, for the Petition for Involuntary Treatment to comply with the applicable Florida Statute, the “patient” must have been subject to involuntary assessment and stabilization within the previous twelve days. 

While this is not meant to be a comprehensive overview of all of the aspects of Florida’s Marchman Act, it does provide a roadmap for getting both adults and minors court-ordered, involuntary assistance when all other efforts have failed.  While it is involuntary, the “patient” is afforded counsel  (and if unable to afford counsel it is appointed by the Court) at each stage to ensure compliance with their rights.  It certainly is a better alternative to state prison or death because of a substance abuse addiction and gives families a vehicle to get their loved ones help.


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