Outpatient Commitment Laws & Massachusetts

 Originally published in the RLC Newsletter, March 2013

 

44 states in the US currently have outpatient commitment laws in place. They are often referred to as ‘Assisted Outpatient Treatment’ or AOT, though they also go by other names (e.g., Kendra’s

Top 5 Biggest Concerns with AOT laws:

1.It will lead to many human rights violations

2.Depending on how the law is written, it’s not  

   even limited to people with a history of  

   violence, but to anyone who is perceived to be

     at risk for hospitalization

3.It uses FORCE as the primary approach

4.It ignores the fact that people being treated in

   the mental health system are dying 25 years

     younger than others in the community

   5. It ignores or devalues people’s preferences,

     culture and personal belief systems

Law, etc.). Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, and Tennessee are the only states that do not have current outpatient commitment laws.

What is AOT?: Laws can look somewhat different from state to state. For example, the New York Office of Mental Health says that AOT was enacted in their state in 1999 to “ensure that individuals with mental illness and a history of hospitalizations or violence participate in community-based services appropriate to their needs.” Essentially, requirements under AOT can include

1. Medication
2. Drug testing to measure whether or not someone has been taking
prescribed medication
3. Therapy (individual and/or group)
4. Day or partial day programs
5. Vocational training

6. Supervised/group living settings
7. Substance abuse treatment
8. Substance abuse testing
9. Any other prescribed services that a doctor claims is linked to a 
risk of suicide, harming others and/or hospitalization

Why do people want AOT laws?: Particularly in the face of some of the recent tragedies, people are scared and looking for answers. Some believe that laws like AOT will help prevent future tragedies, even though the link between violence and people who have been given psychiatric diagnoses is unproven. Opponents of the law suggest that AOT will lead to hundreds of thousands of human rights violations and will make things worse. They say that these laws will only create a brief illusion of safety, and that many people will be forced into treatments they do not want, and will be traumatized and harmed physically and emotionally.  

What’s happening with AOT in Massachusetts?: Representative Kay Khan of Newton has previously proposed a bill that – if approved – would implement outpatient commitment laws in our state. Though the laws have not passed in previous years, Khan has just gone through the process of reintroducing the bill (House Docket number 510). At the time of this writing, the period to introduce new bills has just closed and so the text of the bill is not yet available. However, we are told that by the start of March (if not sooner), it should be available on Khan’s profile page at www.malegislature.gov/People/Profile/K_K1.

What can you do?: Keep your eyes open for the release of the bill and in your local area for community meetings on this topic and let your friends and family know to be looking, too. Write letters to your local representatives expressing your opinion (find your local reps here: www.malegislature.gov/People/Search) and attend any community meetings. You can also let the RLC know about local meetings by calling us or e-mailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.