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Getting Loved Ones Treatment for Substance Abuse


Dealing with a loved one suffering from addiction to drugs or alcohol is a heartbreaking situation. Often, the lives of these individuals are falling apart, but they deny there is a problem and refuse to seek treatment. In addition to wanting this person to get help so he/she can return to a healthy and normal life, the effects of addiction on family members are devastating, especially on young children. Sometimes, it is necessary to seek the involuntary admission of a family member with a substance abuse problem to a treatment program, known as Marchman Act actions. Such a step is often precipitated by the addicted individual engaging in behavior that jeopardizes his/her own safety, or the family’s safety, with others left to deal with the consequences. Opioid addiction is at a particularly critical level nationwide, and in South Florida alone, two people die of an overdose every two hours, many of them linked to synthetic heroin, known as fentanyl. Knowing how to intervene and get the treatment substance abusers desperately need is information all families grappling with this issue should have.

Who Qualifies for Involuntary Admission for Treatment?

Because a Marchman Act petition involves the restriction of a person’s liberty, the criteria that must be met before a court will consider ordering forced treatment is fairly specific and stringent. First, the individual must have lost all control over the addiction. Second, one of the following must also be true:

  • he/she is unable to realize how dire the need for treatment is because of the substance’s effect on his/her perception;
  • he/she is apt to neglect or refuse self-care, posing a considerable effect on the individual’s wellbeing, and family support is insufficient to avoid the harm; or
  • he/she poses a danger to self or others.

How Long Can Someone Be Held?

Obtaining involuntary treatment typically involves a two-step process that starts with a five-day hold to assess and stabilize the individual. Following the outcome of the initial screening, the situation is then reassessed by the court, which may then order admission into a treatment program for no longer than 90 days. However, the court can extend the involuntary treatment hold for another 90 days if it is apparent additional treatment is needed and requested before the expiration of the first period. The person ordered to treatment may not have to complete the full time, though. If any of the following are true, the individual qualifies for discharge, and must be released immediately:

  • the person no longer meets the criteria for involuntary treatment and consents to transfer to a voluntary treatment program;
  • the person was held based on the fear of self-inflicted harm or harm to others and that risk no longer exists;
  • the person no longer needs treatment services;
  • the service provider decides the facility cannot safely manage the individual; or
  • treatment is unlikely to improve the person’s condition.

Filing a Petition

To start the process for admission to involuntary treatment, a petition must be filed with the local circuit court. Only certain parties are permitted to ask for this type of court intervention. Specifically, if the request is for an adult, the petition may be filed by a spouse, legal guardian, relative, health services provider or other interested adult with knowledge of the substance abuse problem. If the subject of the petition is a minor, a parent, legal guardian or health services provider are the only parties eligible to ask for treatment. Because of the liberty interests mentioned above, the person named in the petition is entitled to legal counsel while the court decides if involuntary treatment is appropriate. Further, due to the time sensitive nature of these petitions, they must be considered at a hearing in front of a judge within 10 days of requesting assessment, and within five days of requesting treatment.

Get Help

If you are struggling to help a loved one with a substance abuse problem, and feel the care needed is beyond your capacity, get help. Sometimes, involuntary treatment is the only way to break the cycle, and an experienced family law attorney, like Joyce A. Julian, P.A., can assist you with navigating the legal process. If you live in the Fort Lauderdale area, contact the office of Joyce A. Julian today for a free consultation.




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