Meghan’s Cry: Law to prevent drug deaths rarely used

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Molly Reid thought she had used every tool available to try to get her daughter off heroin. She was wrong.

She and her family are now preparing to spend their first holiday without 23-year-old Meghan.

On Oct. 30, Meghan’s sister found her dead, with a needle still sticking out of her arm.

“There are little memories attached to each item,” Reid told Target 8 through tears as she went through a rental unit packed with her daughter’s belongings.

Reid learned last April that her beautiful, bubbly daughter was in trouble.

“She called me for help, and we got her into the hospital that night,” she recalled. “That day we went over and picked up her stuff from her apartment, told her boyfriend to stay away from her.”

Molly Reid and her longtime boyfriend Doug Chapman had been worried about Meghan’s boyfriend from the start. Initially, they said, Meghan was trying to help him get off heroin. But a year later, it was Meghan herself who needed saving.

“She was excellent at helping everybody, but not very good at helping herself,” said Chapman, who was like a stepdad to Meghan. “Meghan had a heart of gold.”

Meghan, a waitress, detoxed at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in metro Grand Rapids in May, but checked herself out early.

That’s when her mom looked for help at Network180, the agency that coordinates mental health care in Kent County. Reid said they had her fill out a petition to obtain a mental health pick-up order, which a probate judge signed.

But when Grand Rapids police took Meghan to Mercy Health Saint Mary’s for hospitalization, doctors refused to admit her.

“They looked me square in the eye and they told me that they could do nothing more and she didn’t have a problem,” Reid recalled.

No one told Reid there was another option.

A state law passed in 2014 allows families to petition probate court to force a loved one into treatment — not for mental health, but for substance abuse.

The law was inspired by the family of Mark Garofoli, a 22-year-old from the Livonia area who committed suicide in 2011 while trying to wean himself from heroin. Garofoli had tried rehab several times, but always relapsed. Because he was over 18 and his problems were due solely to heroin, his parents could not force him into care.

The Garofolis worked with state Rep. John Walsh, a Republican from Livonia, to get a law passed to change that.

It took two years to work its way through the legislature, in part due to lawmakers’ efforts to ensure that the rights of the person being petitioned are adequately protected.

In order for a judge to grant the petition, it has to meet three requirements:

  • The individual has a substance use disorder as verified by a health professional.
  • The individual presents an imminent danger or imminent threat of danger to self, family or others as a result of the substance use disorder, or a substantial likelihood of the threat of danger in the near future exists.
  • The individual can reasonably benefit from treatment.

The petitioner also has to commit to covering the expense of the treatment.

Molly Reid would have liked to have the option.

“I would have taken out another mortgage on our house,” she said.

>>Meghan’s Cry: The struggle of fighting heroin addiction

But experts say while the new law is well-intentioned, it is difficult to enforce.

“Network180 has not used Public Act 200 because unlike mental health treatment, there are no involuntary substance use disorder treatment programs,” explained Ross Buitendorp, Director of Network Services at Network 180. “People can simply walk out if they don’t want to be there. We focus on ensuring that all individuals eligible for services have access to evidence based medication assisted treatment for opiate use disorders. Unfortunately, other than jail, there are currently no options for individuals who refuse treatment.”

But Kent County Probate Judge David Murkowski told Target 8 that a person petitioned under the new law could risk contempt of court if they walked out of treatment.

Murksowski, whose court processes 3,500 mental health petitions a year, said he has only had one family use the new law in the two and a half years since Gov. Rick Snyder signed it.

The attorney who represented the family in that case told Target 8 he’s not surprised few are using the law.

“It is a very complicated process with lots of potential hurdles,” Shawn Eyestone wrote in an email to Target 8. “The first major hurdle is that the substance abuse victim or his or her loved ones have to guarantee payment for the treatment. Someone has to take a risk to be on the hook for whatever costs are involved, whether the treatment sticks or not. There is no publicly funded treatment or commitment process.”

Eyestone said the cost of obtaining the court order and treatment in his case likely exceeded $50,000.

“I think that the concept is a good one, but it not going to work as a practical matter for most of the people who might benefit from it,” he explained.

Eyestone told Target 8 that the patient risks contempt of court or jail if they leave treatment, but the facility can terminate services if the patient’s condition proves too difficult for the provider to handle.

“If there is no place that will accept them for treatment, which is quite likely if someone is being forced to go into treatment, then the chances of recovery are going to be pretty low, too,” Eyestone suggested.

“Do we need to tweak (the new law)?” questioned Judge Murkowski. “We should always look at those kind of statutes that provide, or should provide, a delivery system of services.”

Murkowksi pointed to recent changes made to Kevin’s Law, 2004 legislation that set criteria for obtaining mental health services for people with severe illnesses who had trouble helping themselves. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who championed the reforms, signed them into law on Nov. 16. The changes simplified the law, which courts hadn’t been using due to its complexity.

Perhaps the law allowing for substance abuse petitions would benefit from additional fine tuning, as well.

Molly Reid certainly wants to help make changes that might prevent other families from experiencing the pain her family has.

“I want to change something with the system and the availability, the affordability, where to gain the knowledge as a family on what to do when you’ve got a family member who’s facing these kinds of issues,” she said.

If you want to get involvement in the Reids’ efforts, you can check out the Facebook page they created to continue the conversation.

Grand Rapids Red Project

Substance abuse recovery programs in Grand Rapids

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on substance abuse treatment

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