Civil Commitment for Opioid Misuse: The Need for an Ethical Use Framework

Cross posted from the Journal of Medical Ethics Blog

By John C Messinger, Daniel J Ikeda, and Ameet Sarpatwari

In the 12 months prior to September 2020, there were over 66,000 fatal opioid overdoses in the United States, a 36% increase over the previous year. Many scholars have hypothesized that this dramatic rise was driven at least in part by conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, including increased barriers to accessing treatment for opioid use disorder and loss of social support.

As the crisis has worsened, states have scrambled to devise interventions to slow the loss of life. One strategy that has gained favor in recent years is the use of civil commitment, which enables others to petition a court to forcibly detain individuals whose opioid misuse presents a clear and convincing danger to themselves or others. Between 2015 and 2018, 25 states amended or passed new legislation related to involuntary commitment for substance misuse generally. More recently, now-President Joe Biden offered support for expansion of “mandatory rehab” on the campaign trail.

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