Could Whitney Houston’s Tragic Death Been Avoided?
With the recent death of Whitney Houston, there has been a heightened awareness of substance abuse and more importantly how pervasive this problem is in all walks of society. Addiction knows no barriers, whether they are social, racial or economic. Today addiction is so common that few among us can say that they have not been personally affected by knowing someone who is or was addicted to drugs or alcohol. The hope is that we may somehow intervene in the affairs of an addict before tragedy wreaks havoc upon them and those that they love.
Fortunately for those who are suffering from alcohol and substance abuse addiction problems in the State of Florida, the Florida Marchman Act was first passed into law in 1993 providing for both involuntary assessment and involuntary treatment upon the filing of a Petition for either or both relief. This progressive legislation was initially introduced by Florida State Senator Hal S. Marchman and accordingly is now known as the “Hal S. Marchman Alcohol and Other Drugs Services Act.” An individual can voluntarily submit to such treatment, however, in many situations this is not likely and/or practical when the abuser is in denial of the abuse and more commonly the underlying problem, which often times is of a psychiatric nature. The Florida Marchman Act provides for a thorough evaluation, which could include both a complete substance abuse and mental health assessment, that often times leads to the discovery of a “dual diagnosis”.
The Florida Marchman Act process typically commences upon the filing of a Petition for Involuntary Assessment when there is a good faith reason to believe that an individual is substance abuse impaired and because of the impairment, the individual has lost the power of self-control with respect to alcohol or substance use. Such a Petition may be filed by the individual’s spouse, guardian, any relative, private practitioner, a service provider director or any three adults having personal knowledge of the person’s condition. In the case of a minor, only the parent, guardian or service provider is authorized to file such a petition.
The Petition is filed with the clerk of court in the county in which the impaired person resides or is found and the court must set the petition for hearing within 10 days. At the hearing, the court may enter an Order for Involuntary Assessment at a public facility unless prior arrangements for a private facility have been made. The facility will assess and stabilize the patient for a period not to exceed 5 days. Thereafter, a written assessment is sent the court which may then proceed with a Petition for Involuntary Treatment.
Generally, a second hearing is conducted upon the Petition for Involuntary Treatment upon the court’s receipt of the written report from the assessment facility recommending the need for involuntary treatment. The court may order the involuntary treatment for a period not to exceed 60 days and may have the Sheriff take the patient into custody for delivery to a licensed treatment facility.
Any individual who is the subject of a Florida Marchman Act has the right to counsel at every stage of a petition for involuntary assessment or treatment. The court will appoint counsel if requested or if needed and the person cannot afford to pay. An unrepresented minor must have a court-appointed guardian ad litem. All filings and proceedings held pursuant to the Florida Marchman Act are held strictly confidential. Pursuant to Section 397.501 Florida Statutes: “The records of service providers which pertain to the identity, diagnosis, and prognosis of and service provision to any individual are confidential in accordance with this chapter and with applicable federal confidentiality regulations and are exempt from s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution. Such records may not be disclosed without the written consent of the individual to whom they pertain…”
The confidentiality provision is a great public policy to prevent a chilling effect upon individuals who may otherwise avoid filing a Marchman Act petition for fear of the negative effect and stigma that may be associated with the filing and the ultimate treatment of a substance abuse impaired individual.
In conclusion, the Florida Marchman Act, is a very valuable part of Florida law which can literally save someone’s life if it is both properly and timely invoked. One may wonder if the tragic outcome of the life of Whitney Houston may have been different if she was a resident of the State of Florida and had been the subject of a Marchman Act proceeding.