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Understanding the Marchman Act

The Hal S. Marchman Alcohol and Other Drug Services Act of 1993, commonly referred to as the Marchman Act, is a Florida statute providing emergency intervention for those over-using drugs or alcohol. It’s meant primarily to address serious situations where a chronic substance user refuses to seek, or is incapable of seeking, help, and may be a danger to himself or others. The act allows family members and certain other individuals to petition for court-ordered evaluation and, if indicated, mandated treatment even if the alleged addict doesn’t want it.

Until their children turn 18, a parent who believes their child needs addiction services can admit them to a treatment facility against their child’s wishes. But, when a person over age 18 refuses treatment that loved ones feel is vital, it’s more difficult to get them the help they need. That’s why some form of involuntary commitment is available in most states, including Florida.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported in 2013 that of the almost 23 million U.S. citizens in need of substance abuse services, only about 2.5 million received needed treatment. Between 1999 and 2015, drug overdose deaths in this country have more than tripled, according to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics. Involuntary commitment laws like the Marchman Act are one tool that may help improve those numbers.

Who is the Marchman Act designed to help?

The act is meant to provide a way for concerned loved ones to get help for someone who desperately needs, but won’t accept, substance abuse treatment. Criteria for an appropriate referral includes:

  • The individual cannot control or stop his or her drug/alcohol use AND is either:
    • Unable to make rational decisions regarding treatment OR
    • Has inflicted or attempted to inflict self-harm or harm to others

It should be noted that a judge may find that an individual’s refusal to seek treatment may not constitute an inability to make a rational decision regarding such treatment.

Steps to initiate an evaluation and potential involuntary commitment under the Marchman Act

  1. The petition can be filed by a spouse, relative, or guardian, or by three concerned unrelated individuals who have witnessed the uncontrollable drug/alcohol use. Emergency petitions can also be filed by a physician, therapist or law enforcement officer.
  2. It may be helpful to enlist the help of an attorney who understands the Marchman Act. There are attorneys who work with families to get the petition filed correctly and will continue to assist throughout the process.
  3. The petition paperwork must be filed with the clerk of the court in the county where the person who is uncontrollably using drugs/alcohol lives or is staying. The person completing the paperwork must swear to its veracity, then the petition is notarized and sent to a judge for review.
  4. The judge (or magistrate) decides if the situation calls for an Ex Parte order, or an emergency situation calling for immediate action, or if the respondent (impaired person) can be served with a summons mandating him or her to attend a hearing. If the situation is determined to be an emergency, the judge issues an order for law enforcement to pick up the impaired person and bring him/her to a designated facility for evaluation.
  5. If the situation is not deemed to meet the criteria for an Ex Parte order, the judge may opt to deny the petition or to set a hearing to take place within 10 days. If a hearing is set, the petitioner will be notified by mail and a summons will be issued for the respondent. Both parties must appear at the hearing.
  6. Both parties are allowed to have legal counsel if they so choose. The respondent can have his or her own attorney or will be assigned a court-appointed lawyer.
  7. Testimony is presented at the hearing and the judge decides if a court-ordered evaluation is appropriate. It is up to the petitioner to prove the respondent is substance use-impaired and in need of a professional evaluation. Most Florida counties have certain facilities designated to perform the evaluation. Facilities are given up to 5 days to complete the evaluation, although they can ask the court for an extension if needed.
  8. After the evaluation, the facility may choose to discharge the client, change the status to voluntary, or file a request with the court for admission to involuntary treatment services. The judge may order treatment for up to 60 days. Some counties allow for initial treatment up to 90 days, with renewals every 90 days.

Why might the judge deny a petition?

There are several reasons a petition can be denied. The petitioner may not have proven to the court’s satisfaction that the respondent meets the necessary criteria for evaluation or involuntary treatment, the respondent’s behaviors may be beyond safe management of the provider, treatment services may not be available or neither the petitioner nor the respondent may have the resources to pay for treatment.

What happens if the client leaves treatment before discharge?

Even with involuntary commitment to treatment, the client will not be in a locked facility. If the client chooses to leave treatment before discharge, he or she may do so, but is then technically in contempt of a court order and could face jail time. Whether or not a jail sentence is imposed in these cases often varies from county to county.

Who pays evaluation and treatment costs?

There is no charge for filing the petition with the court. If the petition is granted, a service fee payable to the Sheriff’s department is required and must be paid by the petitioner. Costs for the evaluation and any court-ordered treatment can be submitted to the client’s insurance company or paid by the client or family. For costs not covered by insurance, some treatment facilities will work with clients on a sliding fee schedule based on income and other factors.

Initiating a petition for involuntary commitment should always be a last resort. If you feel a loved one is in desperate need of help, discuss the situation with a physician or an addiction specialist. Consider consulting with an intervention specialist, a mental health professional specially trained to plan and facilitate interventions. If you’ve tried everything, but are still unable to convince your loved one to get help, the Marchman Act may be the best course of action.

Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987. If you need help or know someone who does, please contact our admissions department at 813-882-3003, 800-397-3006 or admissions@tpoftampa.com.