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  • Jayne Stearns

When Your Loved One Refuses Voluntary Treatment: Section 35

Updated: May 13





Life offers only three eventualities to anyone suffering from the disease of substance abuse: recovery, jail, or death. I can see some flinching and sneering at the word 'disease' here. But whether one agrees with it or not, the American Medical Association classified alcoholism as a disease back in 1975 and included addiction in 1987. In addition, in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), The American Psychiatric Association recognizes addiction as a diagnosable psychiatric disorder describing it as:

"a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain."


So, for the purpose of this article, we'll agree with the AMA and the APA.


Regardless of whether you view substance abuse as a disease, the increasing scourge of addiction on our streets and in our homes is devastating. And for those who know someone or have a son or daughter with addiction, watching them push away the help they need the most and succumb to their demons is heartbreaking.


When you've tried to help them as much as you can without enabling; when they've attempted rehab but left against medical advice several times before treatment was complete; when they've already overdosed; when every other sentence is a lie; when they're stealing from you and the local stores to feed their habit; you know their drug use is out of control.


Unfortunately, you may know their addiction is out of control, but they do not, even when they've OD'd several and been arrested for possession! Why? Because one of the symptoms of addiction is denial. The addict denies they have an addiction and are not easily convinced otherwise.


So, pleading with them to stop using doesn't make them stop, nor does bargaining. Why should it? In their mind, they don't have a problem. And since the disease has rewired their brain, their executive functioning [composed of several interconnected brain areas, including the ventral tegmental area, nucleus accumbens, amygdala, striatum, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex (PFC)] stops working effectively, sabotaging their decision-making and ability to control themselves, which also prevents them from seeking the help they need and deserve.


The addicted brain can only begin healing when it is deprived of the drugs that keep it sick and disordered. And that takes time. Here's where families in Massachusetts can intervene, with the help of the courts, and get their family member the support they need, which could put them on the road to recovery. They can initiate a Section 35.


What is a Section 35?


Section 35 is a law where specific individuals may petition the court to have someone civilly committed and treated involuntarily for an alcohol or substance use disorder. But, again, it needs to be repeated that this is an involuntary commitment to treatment and should be viewed as the last resort.


This person must be in immediate "likelihood of serious harm" to themselves or others, according to the Mass.gov website, not simply have a drug or alcohol problem. The law defines "likeliness of serious harm" in the following way:


  1. A substantial risk of physical harm to the person himself as manifested by evidence of, threats of, or attempt at, suicide or serious bodily harm;

  2. A substantial risk of physical harm to other persons as manifested by evidence of homicidal or other violent behavior or evidence that others are placed in reasonable fear of violent behavior and serious physical harm to them; or

  3. A very substantial risk of physical impairment or injury to the person himself is manifested by evidence that such a person's judgment is so affected that he is unable to protect himself in the community and that reasonable provision for his protection is not available in the community.


Who can initiate a Section 35?


The following individuals can petition the courts for a Section 35:

  • Blood relatives

  • Spouses

  • Police officers

  • Court officials

  • Physicians

  • Guardians


Many individuals may be involved in an addict's life who cares for them, but not all of them can initiate a Section 35. These include the following:

  • Yourself

  • Girlfriends/boyfriends/significant others

  • Therapists, social workers

  • Friends

  • Neighbors

  • Landlords

  • Representative payees

  • Concerned citizens


What happens if the Section 35 is granted?


Suppose enough evidence is given to the court that the individual is a danger to themselves or others. In that case, the judge will issue a warrant of apprehension, allowing the police to apprehend the person and bring them to court. Because the courts are involved, the person can only be picked up during court hours.


Once they are brought to court, they have the right to face their petitioner and fight the Section, or they can agree to treatment. If they decide to receive treatment or fight the Section and lose, they are sent to one of the following facilities for treatment not exceeding 90 days:


Treatment facilities for men:

Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center (MASAC) (DOC)

1 Bumps Pond Road, Plymouth, MA 02360, (508) 291-2441

Men's Addiction Treatment Center (MATC) (DPH)

10 Meadowbrook Road, Brockton, MA 02301, (508) 742-4400

Stonybrook Stabilization and Treatment Center at Ludlow (Stonybrook at Ludlow) (DOC)

627 Randall Road, Ludlow, MA 01056, (413) 547-8000

Stonybrook Stabilization and Treatment Center at Springfield (Stonybrook at Springfield) (DOC)

155 Mill St., Springfield, MA 01108 (413) 547-8000


Treatment facilities for women:

Brockton Addiction Treatment Center (BATC)

30 Meadowbrook Road, Brockton. MA 02301, (508) 742-4420

The First Step Program, MCI Framingham (DOC)

99 Loring Drive, Framingham, MA 01702, (508) 532-5100

Franklin Recovery Center

298 Federal Street, Greenfield, MA 01301, (413) 733-1423

Gavin Foundation

43 Old Colony Avenue, Quincy, MA 02170, (617) 845-5785

The High Point Shattuck Women's Treatment Center (DPH)

170 Morton Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02124, (857) 273-4929

Women's Addiction Treatment Center (WATC) (DPH)

108 North Front Street, New Bedford, MA 02740, (774) 628-1000

Women's Recovery from Addictions Program (WRAP) (DMH)

60 Hodges Avenue, Taunton, MA 02780, (508) 828-3800


Treatment facilities for adolescents:

Motivating Youth Recovery (MYR)

12 Queen Street, Worcester, MA 01610, (508) 860-1244


Hopefully, given enough time without any addictive substances in their system, the addict's brain will begin to heal, and they will elect to continue treatment voluntarily after the Section expires. Since most Section 35 treatment facilities have locked detox and treatment units, the individual can not leave. If they do, they will automatically be apprehended by the police.


If you are concerned about your loved one's addiction and think a Section 35 may save their life, contact the clerk's office of your local district court and ask about the process. Or stop in and begin the paperwork.

You can find more information about the Section 35 process here.

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