New Jersey Bill Classifies Drug Addiction as Mental Illness
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A new bill passed by New Jersey legislature defines drug addiction as mental illness, providing judges with the legal power to involuntarily admit certain addicts.
Bill A3227, drafted by Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), was passed by the Assembly Human Services Committee Thursday and allows judges to send diagnosed addicts with the potential to hurt themselves or others to the state’s involuntary outpatient treatment program.
Mukherji said the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defined “substance use disorder” as a mental illness, and reasoned that the state of New Jersey should as well.
“We need to approach addictions the same way we do any other disease or illness,” Mukherji said. “We’ve heard of far too many parents grieving the loss of a child because there was only so much they could do for them within our existing laws. It’s time to give family members greater power to save their loved ones.”
The bill was strongly supported by parents who lost their children to overdoses. Alba Herrera, who lost her 24-year-old son from a heroin overdose, spoke at the committee hearing.
“These young men and women suffer from a disease called addiction. This disease cannot be cured by willpower,” Herrera said. “Saying that it’s an addict’s decision to use or not is akin to saying that it’s a schizophrenic’s decision to hear or not hear voices...they need help and support, even if it means going to rehab against their will.”
Bill A3227 requires that facility managers of the outpatient program contact a spouse, parent, guardian, or some other person after the resident is released, as long as the resident consents.
In an effort to ensure proper regulation, the bill would also shift the power of licensing sober living homes to the Department of Human Services.