Dunleavy signs involuntary commitment bill, as civil liberties concerns linger about forced psychotropic meds

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By MERRILEE GASSER | THE CENTER SQUARE

A bill that authorizes the creation of facilities where people deemed to be in a behavioral health crisis can be involuntarily committed and administered psychotropic medication without their consent was signed into Alaska law Monday.

House Bill 172 was the subject of much debate through multiple hearings before it was passed by both the Alaska State House and Senate. It was first introduced at the request of Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

According to the bill, law enforcement can detain someone against their will if they believe they are in a behavioral health crisis, committing them to a crisis stabilization center where they may be held for up to 23 hours and 59 minutes or seven days in a crisis residential center.

The bill says a crisis stabilization center would have the authority to “administer psychotropic medication to an involuntarily held or detained respondent only in a manner that is consistent with AS 47.30.838,” referring to Alaska statutes related to mental health.

The statute states that an “evaluation facility or designated treatment facility may administer psychotropic medication to a patient without the patient’s informed consent, regardless of whether the patient is capable of giving informed consent.”

The bill was created as part of an agreement with the Disability Law Center and the Public Defender Agency after an October 2018 lawsuit alleged people in psychiatric crisis were being held indefinitely in jails or emergency departments due to a lack of available beds at the state psychiatric hospital, Clinton Bennett with the Alaska Department of Health told The Center Square.

“The main goal of the bill is to create a strong system of care for Alaskans experiencing a behavioral health need,” Bennett said. “It does this through immediate response mechanisms such as crisis response teams and by new facilities such as crisis stabilization centers, so that individuals in crisis are not unnecessarily held at emergency rooms, jails, or psychiatric hospitals due to a lack of other less restrictive options.”

However, critics say the bill misses the mark and puts civil liberties at risk.

“Placing law enforcement and courts at the center of a person’s mental health journey embeds coercion and is counterproductive to healing,” said Olivia Ensign with Human Rights Watch, a group that investigates and reports on abuses throughout the world. “To align with human rights, treatment should be rooted in the will and preferences of the person themselves, not overridden by what authorities deem to be the best course. Rights respecting entities should prioritize community-based, trauma informed voluntary care rather than systems bolstering intimidation and feeding into involuntary commitment.”

Lawmakers said residents had reached out, telling them not to pass it.

“I’ve had quite a few constituents and people in my area urging me to vote against this bill,” said Senate Majority Leader Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, who voted in favor of the bill.

She said some of her constituents were concerned about language in the bill referring to involuntary commitment and administration of psychotropic medication without consent.

However, Hughes said those statutes are already in place regardless of the bill, and health officers are already authorized to involuntarily commit people and administer psychotropic medication in a crisis. What the bill changes are the locations where that would occur.

Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, one of three senators who voted against the bill, raised numerous concerns and introduced several amendments that were voted down.

“The bottom line here is there is no crime, yet these guys are going to be detained against their will, involuntarily committed, they could be without informed consent given psychotropic medications,” Reinbold said. “Parental rights are missing in this bill. They just notify the parent. So I just find so many serious concerns in this bill.”

The bill states a minor can be taken to a crisis stabilization center without first informing the parents. According to the bill, “the facility shall inform the parent or guardian of the location of the minor as soon as possible” after their child has already been involuntarily medically detained. Alaska law already allows this.

The minor may also be transferred to a different facility without parental knowledge or consent as long as “the center or facility makes a good faith attempt to notify the parent or guardian,” the bill says.

When asked whether there were concerns the bill could have implications for civil liberties, Bennett told The Center Square. “The governor believes that this bill protects Alaskans’ civil liberties.”

He said numerous sections of H.B. 172 expand patients’ rights compared to the current civil involuntary commitment statutes.

“The greatest civil liberty that HB 172 protects is a person’s ability to access appropriate behavioral health treatment without waiting – or being held involuntarily – in jails or emergency departments while waiting for a bed to become available in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Mat-Su or Juneau,” Bennett said.

He said the facilities would also mean closer to home treatment, “especially in rural Alaska and allowing patients to get back to their communities sooner and safer.”

The bill does not address the financing to build or operate the facilities, according to Bennett. However, he said there are existing mechanisms for payment, including grants from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and an appropriation of $8 million by the legislature for Providence Alaska Mental Health Center to create a crisis stabilization center and crisis residential center expected to open in 2023.

This story first appeared at The Center Square, a right-of-center news service.

17 COMMENTS

  1. After reading the bill Dunleavy signed, I can see why some of the legislative persons decided to retire. Hope the Civil Liberty groups take action, and we should all look at this Democrat governor, Dunleavy pretending to be a Republican. Check out the bill and ask yourself if you want this guy in a job such as the governors seat. If you waste you funds on him, you definitely will get what you deserve.

  2. I am of several minds regarding this issue.

    I fully support involuntary commitment unto any individual that is presenting a danger unto others before said harm unto others can be carried out, based upon the individuals’ actions and behavior, as well as proposed intent.

    Secondarily, if one is demonstrably a danger only to themselves, said involuntary commitment could occur based upon supported actions or behavior of the individual, or those responsible for the individual requesting said involuntary commitment, such as a parent or legal guardian within justified, or provable means.

    What I have a problem with is forced psychotropic meds.

    Each individual reacts differently to said meds, and they may or may not be beneficial to that individual.

    The medications themselves should only be issued based upon each individual ‘needs’ after determining what those ‘needs’ are, based upon the individual’s psychosis, and if the individual’s psychosis is even of the ability to medicate, which many are not.

  3. In some states they contract out these “involuntary” psychiatric services to third parties and stick the patient (or parents) with the bill.

  4. I wrote a number of letters to the Legislature this year as it went through the committees and most of my proposed amendments were adopted. See, the top of

    ‘http://psychrights.org/States/Alaska/Alaska.htm

    The fundamental approach is to get the police out of being dispatched to “behavioral health crises” and try to resolve situations first on the phone and then through a mobile crisis team. Failing that, it is true people can be taken against their will to crisis stabilization or residential centers. This is supposed to be better than the psych hospital. We will see. However, it is not true that people can be easily drugged against their will LEGALLY. The statute, AS 47.30.838, is the one for emergency drugging and is very restrictive, but I am concerned the restrictions will not be followed unless there is strong enforcement. My book, The Zyprexa Papers, goes into this some in connection with my battles to prevent Bill Bigley from being psychiatrically imprisoned, which realistically is what it is, and drugged against his will.

    A very important part of the legislation is the State and Trust are directed to issue a report to the legislature in a year, including how to improve patient outcomes. This is one of the amendments I suggested. I plan to present a compelling case that psychiatric imprisonment and forced drugging are very counterproductive and we should be providing humane alternatives which have been proven to be effective.

    • Recommend personal review and study of the US Constitution. Being drugged out of cognition is in opposition to the law of American land – the US Constitution.

  5. Leftists: An involuntary commitment bill is an affront to civil liberties.
    Also leftists: Mandatory mental health evaluations should be required for gun ownership, and they must be repeated regularly. If the gun owner fails the eval, their right to own guns should be removed.

  6. “…….The bill was created as part of an agreement with the Disability Law Center and the Public Defender Agency after an October 2018 lawsuit alleged people in psychiatric crisis were being held indefinitely in jails or emergency departments due to a lack of available beds at the state psychiatric hospital……..”
    Build More Beds! Build More Prisons! Build More Substance Abuse Beds!

  7. I too am conflicted. We have to do something about the crime and lawlessness among the mentally unstable population. How many victims of crimes have to watch the perpetrators walk free simply because they’re unable to participate in their own defense? These people just go out and do the same crimes again and again.

    But I am also concerned about the mental-industrial complex that will likely spring up, where social workers become the cops and prosecutors, and people can be locked away because they do not conform or they spout unpopular opinions. For that matter, will the Assembly start deciding who should be involuntarily committed under this new system?

  8. “Forced psychotropic meds” by the state? This is what they did in the Soviet Union in the 1950s-1970s. They even tried to do this to Solzhenitsyn. It inspired him to write “Cancer Ward” which was not only a apt metaphor, but also had the benefit of being true.

    This is not why I moved to AK.

  9. “law enforcement can detain someone against their will if they believe they are in a behavioral health crisis…” Since when are police now trained enough to make this determination? I can see where there will be misuse by some police to punish people and there is nothing that people will be able to do until after the harm has been done. They should be looking at how they can protect people from the abuses that some police commit against our civil liberties, rather than providing police additional ways to abuse those liberties.

  10. Ironically, the US alphabet agencies have clandestinely reportedly been instrumental in international trade in bulk psychotropic substances that evidently are readily available illegally in many Alaskan communities. So our rights and families are routinely assailed for profit by domestic terrorists. So then for sale government policy is to further addict troubled Americans and their families. Repugnant.

  11. This alone is enough of a reason to toss Dunleavy out of office. Dunleavy has no spine. He did nothing but ride the fence all through Covid. Now taking away peoples rights and forcing them on drugs that are not proven to help, feels like China. Charlie Pierce stood up for the people of the KPB, he is more of a DeSantis, Dunleavy is more of a Biden.

  12. Once again, MRAK cherry picks to make the article more clickable and commentworthy. Shame.

    Title 47 has been around for decades. There are very strict and specific guidelines spelled out in the law that law enforcement and the medical profession have to abide by. Think of it as Probable Cause +P+.

    Just as in an arrest, due process does not play into it, it’s a probable cause issue coupled with imminency. The title-ing of a subject has a specific standard of Imminent self harm or harm to others.

    Without Title 47, an LEO cannot legally take action to prevent a person from carrying out credible suicidal threats “oh, sorry you’re so upset your husband left you, but suicide isn’t criminal and I’ll just leave while you stab yourself in the chest, or spoon your eyeballs out.” Or “oh hey you, naked guy hiding from zombies in -40f temps…being crazy isn’t criminal, so we’ll just leave you to your psychosis.”

    That’s what Title 47 is about, it’s about providing a tool to law enforcement and medical professionals to care for those people that most of the public would prefer to know nothing about and whose existence draws no public compassion.

    Eh, those crazies? Eff ’em because a Trooper caught me speeding once and I don’t like them.

  13. We know there are many people walking around Anchorage that refuses to take their medications. They continue in their sordid ways and gives excuses. “I don’t like my meds” for one reason or another and continue to cause problem around Anchorage and other places. If they continue in their behavior and refuses to get the help these med provide.. Sooner or later they’re in trouble with the law.

  14. Mental health or not, no government entity has a right to forcefully administer a drug to any patient without their consent and or approval by a legal guardian. Although applied in a different way, this isn’t much different than Vaccine Mandates, which threatened peoples jobs over not wanting an experimental vaccine (that’s not a vaccine) into a persons body. Has Governor Dunleavy looked into horrendous crimes committed by individuals on psychotropic drugs? Will the State be responsible for a terrible crime carried out by someone on those drugs?

    This is a direct violation of that persons bodily autonomy and their rights under the Constitution. This would also be in direct violation of the Nuremburg Accords. Are we going to use mental patients as Guinea Pigs for Dr. Fauci and Big Pharma profits now? They already used the world as their test bed for their immune system damaging “vaccine”.

    Dunleavy must go! If you want a Governor that respects your rights as an American, vote Chris Kurka for Governor.

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