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Maine families of those struggling with addiction may soon see expanded options

Advocates say 'Elana's Law' could possibly save the lives of people who need long-term detox treatment.

WATERVILLE, Maine — Advocates for people who are grappling with substance use disorder have said that a bill moving through the Maine Legislature could help save the lives of people at risk of overdose death. 

The proposal would give family members more weight to legally require loved ones to get treatment for substance use disorder. 

Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, is sponsoring a bill, which is named for her sister.

Elana Madigan died at 54 in January from symptoms related to alcohol withdrawal. Under Elana's Law, family members and guardians could petition a civil court judge to start the process of involuntary treatment on behalf of a person with substance use disorder. 

It's a battle that had been going on for two years after she was prescribed opiates for severe pain caused by two other serious medical problems, including having only one kidney. 

"My sister started drinking again," Madigan said. "It was like a freight train coming for her."

Elana's family said she was hospitalized 12 different times for alcohol withdrawal. She also suffered from severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.  

Colleen, a licensed social worker, pleaded with doctors for help in securing a bed in a residential treatment program because Elana's medical issues put her at serious risk of death. But that process can't happen without a patient's consent. It was only right before she died that Elana finally agreed to go to a detox program.

"We had been asking for help for so long, and we had finally succeeded in getting that, and it was still too late," Madigan said. 

The law would create a process where an intervention would occur with a loved one first.

"The family can then be granted an intervention, with a person who has the expertise and licensed to get that person to go to treatment," Madigan added.

Steve Danzig is the executive director of ENSO Recovery. It operates opioid addiction programs in Augusta and Sanford, including medication-assisted recovery residences.

He said interventions involving family members, friends, recovery coaches, and licensed professionals, as required by the bill, can have a more than 90 percent success rate. 

"It's going to ensure that you are going to have someone who understands mental health and SUD that is on board and on this team to help this person in getting help," Danzig said.

If the patient does not want to go into treatment, that will trigger a substance use disorder evaluation conducted by two medical providers, including a physician. Those findings would be reviewed at a hearing before a decision is handed down. Madigan said setting up a legal process to help families of people struggling with addiction could possibly lead to a new path of recovery, 

"They can start using the tools you are trying to give them, and that would have saved my sister's life," Madigan said. 

The bill is scheduled to have its first hearing before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee on Wednesday at 9 a.m. 

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