In recent decades, the legal landscape surrounding substance abuse, particularly drug abuse, has become increasingly complex. Substance abuse not only touches upon criminal and societal issues but can also have a profound impact on mental health. Mental health law seeks to protect the rights of persons with mental health diagnoses or challenges, as well as individuals suffering from addictions. As such, it is important to understand how the law has evolved to meet the needs of the ever-changing substance abuse landscape.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) defines mental health law as “the combination of both national and state laws that protect the rights of people with mental illness, as well as those with substance use disorder.” These laws seek to ensure that such individuals are provided with humane and dignified treatment both inside and outside of the criminal justice system. Examples of this can range from general laws protecting mental health rights to specific laws related to addiction and substance abuse.
In the United States, mental health and addiction law often falls under two separate categories: civil law and criminal law. Civil law includes the laws, regulations, and statutes affecting those dealing with addiction or mental health issues. This can include things like involuntary commitment, civil commitment, and involuntary treatment orders.
Criminal law involves state and federal laws that outline the penalties for violating the laws related to addiction or mental health issues. In some cases, this can include laws criminalizing possession or use of certain drugs as well as laws deciding penalties for drug-related offenses, including those related to driving under the influence.
Mental health law can also include laws related to the treatment and care of those with substance use disorder. This includes laws that help ensure that substance abuse professionals, such as counselors and psychiatrists, have up-to-date knowledge on best practices, and that those in need of treatment can access it in a safe and timely manner. Additionally, there are laws related to the regulation of substance abuse treatment and prevention, such as those related to insurance coverage and patient confidentiality.
In recent years, the laws surround mental health and addiction have evolved to meet the changing needs of individuals dealing with these issues. For example, laws related to involuntary commitment, such as the Mental Health Parity Act, work to ensure that those with mental illness or substance use disorder are not discriminated against in the provision of health insurance. Additionally, in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with addiction or mental illness can no longer be excluded from employment, lifesaving healthcare, or disability protection.
Furthermore, various state and federal laws have been passed to ensure that those with addiction or mental health diagnoses are provided with humane treatment, particularly when faced with criminal charges. This includes initiatives such as “drug courts”, which allow those charged with drug-related offenses to enroll in treatment programs rather than face harsher punishments, as well as “mental health courts”, which allow for similar diversion programs for those charged with mental health-related crimes.
As the landscape of drug abuse continues to evolve, it is essential to remain up-to-date on evolving mental health laws that seek to protect the rights of individuals struggling with addiction or mental health issues. It is only through an understanding of mental health law, and an advocacy of humane and upbeat treatment, that we can hope to ensure respect for the individual rights of those affected by substance abuse.