My Family Member is Suffering from Drugs and Alcohol – Should I Call My Lawyer?
When a family member suffers from drug or alcohol abuse, the entire family is affected. In 2017, 1,985 people died from overdose deaths in Maryland. That is a rate of 32.2 deaths per 100,000 persons, as per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, two times the national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000. Maryland holds the dubious distinction of ranking in the top 5 nationally for opioid-related fatalities. Heroin death rates are falling somewhat, but synthetic opioids such as fentanyl result in even higher fatality rates.
Currently, 37 states allow for involuntary rehabilitation commitment for alcoholism or substance abuse disorders, and Maryland is not one of them. Although the legislature has discussed changing this law and granting forced rehab, any potential change does not help families dealing with an immediate crisis. Even if your loved one is in danger of dying, you cannot force them into rehab against their will. You likely feel desperate and at your wit’s end, but your attorney can help.
When to Call
When a family member is arrested for any charges involving substance abuse or relating to substance abuse, call a Maryland criminal defense lawyer at once. Standard charges involving substance abuse include DUI and illegal drug possession. Charges of intent to distribute are more severe than possession, and Maryland drug sentencing laws are harsh. Some crimes may relate to substance abuse, such as a person charged with burglary committing the crime to feed his habit.
What if the family member has not been arrested, but it is just a matter of time before she causes an accident while drinking and driving, possibly killing or seriously injuring herself or others? What if is just a matter of time before that family member is found dead with a needle in the arm? A lawyer can guide families in the right direction in finding the appropriate treatment for their loved one.
Many people struggling with substance abuse issues are self-medicating an underlying mental health disorder. Dual diagnosis refers to those dealing with both mental health and substance abuse issues. Sometimes the mental health issue leads to substance abuse, and sometimes substance abuse triggers mental health problems.
What Can a Lawyer Do for Me?
A lawyer may help avoid a substance abuse problem from developing into a legal issue. That legal issue is not limited to arrest. Living with a substance, abuser puts an enormous strain on a marriage. Sometimes, the threat of a divorce may help a person seek treatment for their illness. At the least, an attorney can review the marital assets and advise the spouse on the kind of settlement they might receive if they do decide to divorce, as well as custody and other issues.
In the case of those family members whose alcoholism or drug abuse puts them in immediate danger, adult guardianship is an option.
Under Maryland law, a court can appoint a guardian if clear and convincing evidence is presented that the disabled person, including those disabled from “habitual drunkenness, or addiction to drugs,” does not have the sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate responsible decisions for themselves. The petitioner, you or another close family member, must prove the disabled person’s incapacity. Either two physicians licensed to practice in the U.S. or a licensed physician and either a licensed psychologist or certified clinical social worker must submit a certification of incapacity to the court.
If the court does decide that their substance abuse problem disables your family member, the next decision is appointing a guardian. Unless the disabled person has already designated a guardian before becoming disabled, the order of priority for those becoming a guardian are the disabled person’s spouse, parents, adult children, heirs at law, and then any other individual with interest in the disabled person’s welfare. A guardian has the power to give consent for medical and other professional care, including substance abuse treatment.
Keep in mind that obtaining guardianship is a last resort and useful only for those family members so debilitated by their substance abuse problem that they are dysfunctional. “Functioning” alcoholics or drug addicts may ruin their families’ lives, but they are not far gone enough to qualify for guardianship.
What Should I Expect?
While every case is different, when it comes to substance abuse, all such abusers have one thing in common: They must recognize the depth of the problem and commit to treatment. Many substance abusers remain in denial for far too long, even as their personal and professional lives, as well as their health, are affected. When the person does consent to treatment, it is not done in a vacuum. Family members also need to become involved with the treatment process and attend counseling sessions, so they know what to expect and how to help their loved one recover and their family heal.
Maryland Drug Courts
Maryland offers special Drug Courts targeting criminal defendants and offenders, along with juvenile offenders. It also targets parents with pending child welfare cases who have substance abuse issues. Drug Court differs significantly from the traditional court. In a conventional courtroom, the goal is “legal justice.” In drug court, the goal is the restoration of the defendant as a productive, contributing member of society. Drug Court involves individualized, highly structured treatment programs. The court closely monitors the defendant’s treatment progress.
County Drug Court eligibility generally requires:
- S. citizenship
- County residency
- Age 18 and up
- Non-violent offense
- No outstanding warrants or pending charges
- No active probation or parole.
Each county sets up its regulations for Drug Court. In Montgomery County, for example, the program lasts for a minimum of 20 months and consists of four phases. All participants must undergo substance abuse treatment and attend recovery meetings. They must appear in Drug Court for frequent status hearings, meet with a case manager regularly and live in court-approved housing.
The ability to graduate from Drug Court includes not only successful completion of all program and probation requirements, but the satisfactory completion of all community service assignments. The person must complete six months of continuous clean urinalysis testing. The Drug Court Team must recommend the graduation, and the Drug Court Judge must approve.
The experienced attorneys at Blackford & Flohr can help you in the battle for your substance-abusing family member’s life and health. As criminal defense lawyers, we can represent your loved one and work toward getting treatment. Call us today at 410-647-6677, or contact us online.