Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease defined by dangerous irresponsibility and impulsivity. Convincing a substance-dependent individual to voluntarily seek treatment is difficult at best. Many live in chronic denial about the seriousness of their addiction, refusing well-intentioned attempts to offer help despite escalating social, professional, medical, and legal consequences.
To families who are chained to a love one caught in addiction’s irrational grips, hope for a better life can seem dim, if not impossible. Although interventions can prove successful if executed with skill and caution, they frequently backfire, triggering hostile or other threatening responses. In an effort to simultaneously preserve the integrity of the family unit and protect individuals struggling with addiction, Florida is one of over a dozen states with laws geared toward involuntary commitment to substance abuse treatment.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Under Florida law, once an individual reaches the age of 18 they are legally an adult and cannot be forced to seek medical treatment— unless they are deemed unfit to make logical decisions or are considered a danger to themselves and/or others. The “Florida Marchman Act”—officially known as the “Hal S. Marchman Alcohol and Other Drug Services Act of 1993”—allows for the involuntary commitment of an individual struggling with substance-induced mental illness.
Prior to its passage, Florida families had no legal recourse against the dangers imposed upon them by a loved one struggling with drug addiction. Aside from restraining orders or having their loved one arrested for battery, theft, and other criminal behavior, their hands were tied. The Marchman Act now offers a viable alternative.
HOW IT WORKS
Like many legal proceedings, the Marchman Act must be initiated by filing a petition. To qualify, a court-recognized authority must file the petition for involuntary assessment at the county court in which the impaired individual lives. In addition to being filed in “good faith,” the petitioner must also demonstrate reason to believe that the individual in question—the respondent—has lost self-control to such a degree that they are a threat to the well-being of themselves and others without mandatory, court-ordered treatment. The court also requires a petitioner to demonstrate that the respondent is incapable of acting rationally with regard to the necessity of receiving treatment.
According to the original Marchman Act, a court-recognized authority was defined as a spouse, blood relative, or any three parties who had direct knowledge of a person’s drug addiction in cases where an individual had no immediate family. Effective July 1, 2016, a modification to the act now allows only one unrelated person having direct knowledge of an individual’s addiction to meet criteria, making it easier to initiate the process.
Further modifications allow people suffering from co-occurring disorders such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia to be included in the act, whereas previously, county-funded facilities refused to admit them. This is especially beneficial to families whose loved ones suffer from known mental illness accompanied by substance abuse—even if substance abuse is not the primary issue.
To briefly summarize the process, approval of a Marchman Act petition requires evidence that the following four elements meet criteria:
- An individual is powerless over their drug or alcohol addiction.
- An individual is unwilling to seek help even when offered.
- An individual no longer has the rational ability to seek help or understand they need it.
- An individual is likely to cause self-harm or harm others as a direct result of their addiction unless they receive help.
After a petition has been filed and relevant testimony heard by the appropriate court, the court enters an order for involuntary assessment. This order provides the legal mechanism necessary to evaluate and stabilize the impaired individual for a period of up to five days.
Upon successful completion of the assessment, all findings are carefully reviewed by the court. If the court finds sufficient evidence that involuntary treatment is necessary, they may enter an order for involuntary treatment for a period of up to 60 days.
A judge may also enter a 90-day extension if deemed necessary. If an individual prematurely leaves treatment in violation of a judge’s orders, or refuses to comply with treatment terms and conditions, they must answer to the court and are immediately returned to involuntarily care. If further defiance occurs, an individual may be held in civil contempt, after which time they face incarceration.
The following three options are available when filing a petition with the court:
- The cheapest filing option involves doing it yourself. The interested party would simply visit their local county courthouse and complete what is known as the “Marchman Act Package.” After submitting the package to the court, however, any miscalculations or additional mistakes are considered their responsibility. Although this cost-friendly option is popular, it can become more costly in the end due to overlooked details and human error.
- The interested party would hire an attorney to file for them. Although this option is the most expensive, it is also the most expedient and error-safe method of filing. Typical retainers for this process run anywhere between $7,500 and $9,500 depending upon the reputation of the attorney and scope of services provided. In the end, many families are happy that they chose this method.
- Hiring a comprehensive intervention counselor is also a viable, effective way to file a petition. Essentially, a comprehensive intervention counselor—also known as a certified interventionist—creates, implements, and monitors an individualized treatment plan. Generally, the cost of hiring a comprehensive intervention counselor is approximately half that required to hire an attorney.
Fortunately, an individual does not need to be a Florida resident in order to be considered eligible for treatment under the Marchman Act. Drug addiction is undeniably linked to a transient lifestyle, and Florida courts generously allow accessible treatment for those out-of-state. Many families specifically send loved ones to Florida so that they can finally receive the treatment they need after exhausting all other reasonable options.
Successfully employing the Marchman Act to help a loved one with addiction can be an extremely challenging and time-consuming process. In certain cases, the sheriff may not be able to serve the order for involuntary treatment because the individual in need of treatment cannot be found. Some are fugitives, incapacitated, or deliberately avoid responding to repeated attempts to locate them.
Another common pitfall involves conflicting priorities— serving a Marchman Act order may simply not be a priority for the local sheriff. Many jurisdictions are overworked, understaffed and do not respond favorably to being forced to involuntarily commit someone to treatment when they are inundated with drug-traffickers, murderers and rapists.
Efforts to help a loved one via the Marchman Act may also be sabotaged by the deliberate manipulation tactics of a respondent. Wise to their self-created predicament, and aware of the pending consequences, some arrive for involuntary treatment appearing clean cut and sober, with little to no traces of mind-altering substances in their system. As a result, they are released within a day or two by a duped staff in accordance with Florida law.
PROS AND CONS
Critics of the Florida Marchman Act attack the very premise of the legislation—claiming that treatment doesn’t work unless and until an individual wants it for themselves. They regularly cite soaring relapse rates and treatment failure statistics to support its abolition and undermine its merits.
Conversely, proponents recognize the sanity robbing power of addiction and the unprecedented toll it takes on families, many of whom are totally devastated by the time they consider resorting to such an extreme intervention. One thing both critics and proponents mutually agree upon: the Florida Marchman Act should be viewed as a last resort after other options have been exhausted.
For more information about the Florida Marchman Act and addiction treatment, check out these related articles:
- Your Rights as a Patient
- Common Co-Occurring Disorders Associated with Addiction
- Drug Courts and Other Effective Community Approaches to Addiction
- What to Do if My Parent is an Addict
Department of Children and Families (DCF). Marchman Act User Reference Guide 2003. Jan, 2003.
Journal of Addictive Diseases. Civil Commitment for Substance Use Disorder Patients Under the Florida Marchman Act: Demographics and Outcomes in the Private Clinical Setting. Jan, 2013.
Journal of American Medicine Association (JAMA). Using Florida’s Marchman Act & Other Means to Eradicate Our Substance Abuse Epidemic. Aug, 2014.
OLR Research Report. Florida Law on Substance Abuse Treatment. Dec, 2012.