The US opioid epidemic is characterized by a high rate of opioid overdose deaths (47 600 in 2017 alone) and a low rate (<5%) of self-perceived treatment need among individuals who misuse opioids.1,2 One strategy to address this problem is civil commitment for opioid misuse, which is currently permitted in Washington, DC, and 38 states. These statutes, like their mental health counterparts, give judges authority to order individuals into treatment when their opioid use poses serious risk of harm or substantially impairs their decision-making. While it remains to be seen whether this controversial strategy can help decrease overdose deaths, an alarming trend toward criminalization of civil commitment threatens the success of these laws. In this Viewpoint, we examine this phenomenon, discuss how it undermines the therapeutic intent of commitment laws, and consider legal objections. We end with a proposal for reforms.
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Christopher PP, Appelbaum PS, Stein MD. Criminalization of Opioid Civil Commitment. JAMA Psychiatry. 2020;77(2):111–112. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.2845
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