Letter to the Editor

Our hands are tied

Last week’s letter writer who urged the community to stand together as we deal with the growing threat of drug addiction negatively impact all of us. We can not pretend there is no problem,. There is clearly an issue as we watch the growing number of fatal and near fatal overdoses.

However, Writing a Section 12 (pink paper) is not a form of rehabilitation.  Often it is neither beneficial nor non-beneficial. It is just a tool and not the best one. Pink papers are not a resource. It is a last resort.

Our hands are tied. It isn’t just a feeling. It is a sad reality. A Section 12 is an involuntary commitment written by a doctor, a mental health professional and in some cases a police officer. In my whole career as a police officer for the state Department of Mental Health, I found myself forced in 28 years on the job, to write One Section 12. You can only pink paper someone if they are clearly a danger to themselves or others.

A Section 12 is good for 72 hours, that’s it. It is forced commitment  and as quickly as the  Section 12 is written, if a person deems not to comply with treatment on a voluntary basis, the 72 hours end and the person is usually free to walk out of the hospital or treatment site.

No one can really be forced into treatment. Treatment if it is to work must be a decision by the person needing it. Very few folks who are involuntarily committed rarely return home and change their life styles. The route to effective treatment is a difficult walk. However, the person must want it and  many who voluntarily  commitment themselves actually do get better but never do all.

A Section 12 lasts  72 hours and sadly many decide after spending three days in a hospital bed to sign a 3-day paper and leave against a doctor’s advice. That’s a sad but true fact of life.

Saying someone is sick that they are a threat to themselves or others is easier said than done which is why we see those horrible stories on newspaper pages when someone kills themselves or others.

What is the proper length of time for treatment is often a   judgment call and sadly too often a call by the health insurer as to when insurance runs out. In a perfect world, folks in trouble would get treated and cured but when it comes to mental illness or drugs or both together

, there are no easy answers or solutions.

Too often people turn out to be their own worse enemy. A reality I saw in my 41 years working for the state mental health department many times over. There’s an old saying that goes, ‘They died with their rights  on.” Sadly, that is reality too.

Section 12s to be effective must have limits on them. It is an emergency tool and little else.

If you want to help someone, you need to convince them they need help. You can’t force anyone into treatment. You can just help them by listening and talking with them but the decision isn’t yours or from a Section 12, the decision is theirs to make. Therein lies the problem.



East Boston

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