One of the most difficult tasks for families affected by substance abuse is convincing the addict that drug rehab is needed. Interventions are one option that can lead the addict to voluntarily seek help, but sometimes the addict simply won’t budge. In such instances, it may be time to consider forcing the addict into substance abuse rehab. More than a dozen states have laws dealing with involuntary commitment for addiction treatment. Florida’s Marchman Act is among the most progressive of these laws, and Fort Lauderdale attorney Raymond G. Ferrero III is an expert in this field. In this section, Ray answers some of the more common questions about the Marchman Act.
Q. What is the Marchman Act?
A. It’s a civil, confidential involuntary commitment statute in the state of Florida. To put it in layman’s terms, it’s a law devised to assist families through the courts to get loved ones into court-ordered-and-monitored intervention assessment stabilization or detox, and long-term treatment when they won’t do it themselves.
Q. Who can invoke the Florida Marchman Act to force someone into treatment?
A. A spouse, blood relative or any three people who have direct knowledge of a person’s substance abuse. Many people who don’t have any family at all, so that’s why the law allows for three people who have independent knowledge.
Q. What kind of proof must I provide that this person needs treatment now?
A. You have to demonstrate that the person has lost the power of self-control with respect to substance abuse, and that they’re likely to inflict harm upon themselves or other people unless they get help. Also, you must demonstrate he or she doesn’t have the capacity to appreciate the need for care or make any kind of rational decision regarding that care. And finally, they’re unwilling to do this voluntarily.
Once you file, many times the addict suddenly says, “Okay, I’ll do it.”
Q. Once I file the necessary paperwork, how does the process work?
A. A hearing is set before the court after a Petition for Involuntary Assessment and Stabilization is filed. That petition is basically says, “Judge, I want you to have this person assessed and stabilized.” Following this hearing, the individual is held for up to five days for medical stabilization and assessment. A recommendation is also made to the court.
Following that process, a Petition for Treatment must be filed with the court and a second hearing is held for the court to review the assessment and recommendation. Based upon that recommendation, the judge can then order a 60-day treatment period with a possible 90-day extension, if necessary. If the addict exits treatment in violation of the judge’s order, you return to court and have the addict answer to the court as to why he or she did not comply with treatment and returned immediately for involuntarily care. If the addict refuses, he or she is held in civil contempt of court for not following the treatment order, and is ordered to either return to treatment or be incarcerated. This why the Marchman Act works — it carries real consequences.
One advantage of hiring a law firm is having the ability to skip this first step and expedite the entire process, especially the crucial phase of having the person medically stabilized. A lawyer will file a sworn petition that lays out the facts and demonstrates the need for immediate substance abuse assessment, detox and intervention. There can then be a court order in as little as 24 to 48 hours.
Q. Must the addict be a Florida resident to be treated under the Marchman Act?
A. No. People who are using drugs are often transient, so it’s difficult for families to lock them down with residency. With the Marchman Act, if they step foot in an area, we can file in that area. We actually have clients from all across the nation calling us saying, “We’re going to get somebody down to Florida so we can hold them.”
Q. Is an attorney needed to seek treatment under the Florida Marchman Act?
A. An attorney isn’t required under the Marchman Act, but an experienced attorney does offer a greater chance of success. 9-of-10 families who try to take advantage of the Marchman Act on their own often run into difficulty because they simply don’t know the rules of civil procedure. It’s like doing your own criminal case or divorce. Many Marchman Act filings are dismissed for technical reasons, even though the addict fits all the necessary criteria to qualify.
It’s also important to note that in order to protect the addict’s due-process rights, every addict who appears in court under the Marchman Act has an attorney assigned to them. Families walk in there thinking they’re trying to get someone help, and suddenly their loved one has an attorney trying to get the case dismissed.
We like to tell the families, “Look, you tell us to start this thing, and then it’s time for you to step back. You’ve dealt with enough, and it’s time for us to shoulder the burden here. We’re going to get the person into treatment, and if they leave, we’re going to get them back.”
The law firm, Addiction Recovery Legal Services, was specifically created to help families benefit from the years of experience we have in working on Marchman Act cases.
Q. Will treatment under the Florida Marchman Act cost more?
A. Addiction Recovery Legal Services is a private firm, so there is a cost involved for hiring us, with the exact cost varying based upon the complexity of the case. The good news is that we work with families through payment plans, because we know that oftentimes treatment can get expensive.
We charge a flat fee, so families know upfront the cost of our services, and we offer a free and thorough initial consultation. For families without the ability to pay for treatment, we can explore state-funded treatment options at county-subsidized facilities.