New law could force high-risk drug users into treatment

A change in Washington state law could force high-risk drug users into treatment facilities – whether they want to go or not.

“Ricky’s Law” was signed by Governor Jay Inslee in 2016 – it went into effect this week. Drug users who pose an immediate risk to themselves, or others, can be detained and involuntarily committed for treatment.

“Essentially, Ricky’s Law provides a reset button – it provides an opportunity for people to reconnect with family, to connect with caring providers,” said Lauren Davis, executive director of the Washington Recovery Alliance.

Davis remembers the helpless feeling of watching her friend, Ricky Garcia, slip away to drugs at the age of 25.

“It was explained to me by his psychiatrist that if he were equally dying of a mental health condition, there could be life-saving intervention. But because his diagnosis was substance use disorder, the hands of the physicians treating him were tied,” Davis said.

That reality lead her on a crusade to change state law alongside Garcia, who made a full recovery. After two legislative sessions – Ricky’s Law was born.

“A person ultimately has to want it, but it’s also true that a person, very often in the depths of addiction, has no ability to make a choice for treatment,” Davis said.

The law is only enforceable if there are enough beds available at state designated treatment facilities. Right now, only 51 of those beds exist in the state of Washington – 24 are located in North Spokane at the American Behavioral Health System. The state estimates nine facilities will eventually be needed – those additional treatment centers will be built between now and 2026.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, 694 Washingtonians died of opioid related overdose deaths in 2016.