Q: My 21-year-old daughter, who lives alone, suffers from the effects of alcohol abuse. She refuses to get treatment, and I fear for her safety. Is there any way to get her into treatment despite her refusal?
A: Yes. On March 22, 2012, Ohio Senate Bill 117 became effective. This law includes a provision allowing a probate court to order involuntary treatment for a person suffering from alcohol or other drug abuse, as long as certain procedures are followed. A spouse, relative or guardian may initiate this proceeding.
Q: How would I go about asking the court to order treatment for my daughter?
A: First, you would file a petition with the probate court and pay any fee that may be charged for filing an affidavit saying you are seeking your daughter’s hospitalization. Your petition must include certain information that must be verified by the court, including a doctor’s statement about your daughter’s need for treatment (unless she has refused to see a doctor about her condition). The law gives the probate court “exclusive jurisdiction” to hear and determine such petitions. This means that only the probate court can consider your petition, order treatment for your daughter, and take other actions allowed by law regarding involuntary treatment for someone suffering from alcohol or other drug abuse.
Q: What happens once the probate court receives my petition?
A: After having received your petition and filing fee (if any), the court must examine you under oath about what is included in your petition. After reviewing the allegations in your petition, the court must decide if there is “probable cause” to believe your daughter may reasonably benefit from treatment. If the court finds probable cause, it will conduct a hearing to determine if there is “clear and convincing evidence” that your daughter may reasonably benefit from treatment. The court will also consider the recommendations of a qualified health professional who has examined your daughter and can certify that she meets the criteria for involuntary treatment.
Q: If the health professional certifies to the court that my daughter should receive involuntary treatment, what happens next?
A: If the probate court finds “by clear and convincing evidence” that your daughter presents an “imminent threat of danger” to herself, her family or others, and that she would reasonably benefit from treatment, the court may order your daughter to be hospitalized for this treatment.
Q: Does my daughter have any rights in this matter?
A: Yes. Your daughter has a right to legal counsel and to have an independent expert evaluation of her physical and mental condition. Also, if your daughter is hospitalized during the proceeding because the court finds that she presents an “imminent threat of danger” to herself, her family, or others, then the court must inform your daughter that she may immediately make a reasonable number of phone calls or use other reasonable means to contact an attorney (or someone who can help her secure legal counsel), a licensed physician or a qualified health professional, or to get medical or psychological help. Your daughter would receive help in making calls if she needs help and asks for it.
Q: What if my daughter refuses to be examined before the court hearing, or refuses to go to the hospital even after the court has ordered it?
A: The law authorizes the probate court to issue a summons if your daughter fails to attend an examination scheduled before the hearing. The summons must be directed to your daughter and must command her to appear at a particular time and place. The summons also will say that, if your daughter fails to appear at the examination or the hospital, the court may order the sheriff or any other peace officer to transport her to a hospital from a list the law provides.
Q: Who decides which hospital will take my daughter?
A: The law requires each Ohio county’s board of alcohol, drug addiction and mental health services to submit lists of certain specified hospitals to the clerk of each county’s probate court at least once a year.
Q: Will information about my daughter’s involuntary treatment be kept confidential?
A: Yes. Ohio laws regarding patient confidentiality, as well civil rights and liberties, apply to a person who is ordered to undergo treatment for alcohol and other drug abuse.
Q: Who is responsible for my daughter’s treatment costs?
A: When you file a petition with the probate court, you must also file a statement guaranteeing payment of the costs of any required examinations of your daughter and the costs of any treatment ordered by the court.
This “Law You Can Use” column was prepared by the Ohio State Bar Association.