Massachusetts Bar Association Joins Fight Against Opioid Epidemic, Offers Free Legal Assistance

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BOSTON— The Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) has launched a free legal assistance program in Norfolk County to help county residents who are seeking court-ordered inpatient treatment for a family member or friend struggling with opioid and other alcohol or drug addictions.

The MBA program offers assistance with a state law, known as “Section 35” (Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 123, Section 35), which permits individuals to petition the courts to involuntarily commit substance abusers to an inpatient treatment program when their alcohol or drug use puts themselves or others at risk. A substance abuser can be sent to a treatment program for up to 90 days if a judge determines, following a hearing and a review of medical evidence, that there is a “likelihood of serious harm” to themselves or others.

MBA President Robert W. Harnais
MBA President Robert W. Harnais

Norfolk County residents can contact the MBA’s Section 35 Helpline, available toll-free at (844) 843-6221, or via email at HelpUs@MassBar.org, where they will be put in touch with volunteer lawyers, who will assist them pro bono (for free) with their Section 35 petitions, up to and including going to court.

The Section 35 Helpline, the first of its kind in the commonwealth, is currently being run as a pilot program, and pro bono lawyers are only available to Norfolk County residents. Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey recently said the number of people who have died from opioid overdoses in Norfolk County has more than doubled the total from two years ago. (See: “Opioid deaths in Norfolk County show big rise,” Boston Globe, Dec. 16, 2015.)

“Having a loved one ‘sectioned’ and forced into treatment is not an easy thing to do and often viewed as a last resort to save someone’s life. No one should have to go through this alone,” said MBA President Robert W. Harnais, who created the program. “Our Helpline ensures that, for the first time, the people closest to the devastation caused by opioid addiction — the addict’s friends and family members — have the support and legal help they need to navigate this powerful process.”

The MBA is distributing information about the Section 35 Helpline to South Shore hospitals and the nearly 30 city and town police departments in Norfolk County. The Quincy Fire Department has also added Helpline information to its Opioid Recovery Resource Guide. Dozens of MBA lawyers in Norfolk County have already volunteered to take calls and cases that come in from the Section 35 Helpline. The MBA has also scheduled an additional training in January for volunteer lawyers to supplement an earlier training held in Norfolk County.

Separately, a study said that opioids may cause short-term improvement in mood but its long-term use imposes risk of new onset of depression, reported IANS.

Longer duration of use of opioid — a type of narcotic pain medication derived from opium — is linked with onset of depression after controlling for pain and daily morphine equivalent doses, the findings showed.

“Opioid-related new onset of depression is associated with longer duration of use but not dose,” wrote Jeffrey Scherrer, associate professor at the Saint Louis University in the US.

“Patients and practitioners should be aware that opioid analgesic use of longer than 30 days imposes risk of new onset depression,” Scherrer added.

The study also calls on clinicians to consider the contribution of opioid use when a depressed mood develops in their patients.

Opioid drugs used in the study included codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, levorphanol, meperidine, oxycodone, oxymorphone, morphine and pentazocine.

The study was published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

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