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Lawmakers Consider Letting Families Use Courts To Get Addicts Into Treatment

Toby Talbot
A bill proposed by state Sen. Jay Costa (D - Forest Hills) would allow people to ask courts to send family members to substance abuse treatment.

As part of the effort to fight opioid addiction, Pennsylvania state Sen. Jay Costa (D - Forest Hills) has proposed a bill that would allow courts to send people to substance abuse treatment at the request of family members.

Policymakers, doctors and other care providers explored how the proposal could be implemented at a hearing at Duquesne University Friday.

Costa said his proposal would meet a critical need for families throughout the state.

“I’ve heard from so many families who said to me - in most instances after they’ve lost a loved one - that we didn’t have a mechanism to get my child or my spouse into treatment. There needs to be something that forces my child to go to treatment.” Costa explained.

Costa modeled his proposal after legislation that several other states, including Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, have adopted.

Although it’s debatable whether families find these laws, also known as Casey’s Laws, useful, Costa said the primary concern with his bill is that it would increase treatment demands beyond the state’s capacity.

“The pushback has really come from the folks who believe that we simply don’t have enough bed space, quite frankly, or treatment facilities in the Commonwealth to be able to accommodate what might occur,” Costa said.

Costa also noted that it can be challenging to win support for the bill, given the program relies on court-mandated, involuntary treatment.


“It’s difficult because you’ve got individuals addicted who are denying that they have a problem,” Costa said. "Folks don’t want to give up their liberties. When you put somebody in treatment for 60, 90, 120 days, there are a lot of other factors that need to be considered.”

For example, he said, people often must sacrifice time with family and could even lose their jobs in order to receive inpatient treatment.

Costa said his bill adopts procedures similar to those used for the involuntary commitment of people diagnosed with a mental illness and includes due process protections.

“The proposed court-ordered treatment could only be considered if the addict has overdosed, is a suicide threat, has been unable to adequately care for themselves or is a threat to others,” according to a statement from the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee, which held Friday’s hearing on the bill.

Any treatment plan would be based on a physical examination and drug and alcohol addiction evaluation conducted by medical professionals. Individuals would be entitled to a hearing and court-appointed counsel before entering treatment.

In its current form, the bill would make families responsible for paying for examinations and treatment - a possible reason why in some states, few have taken advantage of Casey’s Laws. That provision, however, could be removed from the bill, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Costa’s bill, introduced in February, is still pending in the Senate.

An-Li Herring is a reporter for 90.5 WESA, with a focus on economic policy, local government, and the courts. She previously interned for NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in Washington, DC, and the investigations team at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A Pittsburgh native, An-Li completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and earned her law degree from Stanford University. She can be reached at
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