The Florida Mental Health Act, or the “Baker Act”

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When individuals become addiction to alcohol and drugs, they will often begin to act and behave in ways that they wouldn’t if they weren’t under the influence of intoxicants. As the addiction increases in severity over time, many addicts will commit crimes such as breaking and entering or theft, even from loved ones, in order to sustain their habit. Many family members, friends, and loved ones show their concern by staging interventions for the addicts in their lives and although interventions have a high rate of success when it comes to encouraging addicts to receive treatment for their disease, interventions are not always successful.

The fact of the matter is that, despite the best efforts of the individuals who love them, addicts must choose to seek treatment and begin the journey toward recovery; it’s not something they can be persuaded, coerced, or otherwise forced to do unless the addict is ready and willing to enter treatment. As such, this often leaves the loved ones of an addict with no choice but to helplessly watch as the individual continues on a path toward destruction that will likely result in his or her death.

The Florida Mental Health Act

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Fortunately, loved ones of an addict who lives in the state of Florida aren’t completely helpless. The Florida Mental Health Act of 1971—also frequently called the “Baker Act” due to being named after Florida state representative Miriam Baker, who was a major advocate of mental health issues and sponsored the original bill—allows for the involuntary or emergency institution of an individual for the purpose of an examination.

According to the legislature, the Baker Act can only be initiated by judges, law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, or physicians and requires that the individual who is to be involuntarily institutionalized be potentially suffering from a mental illness as defined in the Baker Act, or be of harm to him or herself, others, or is self-neglectful as defined in the Baker Act.

If an individual meets the criteria for involuntary commitment and is deemed to be medically stable, an evaluation can last up to 72 hours, or three days, after which there can be one of the several possible outcomes. Examinations under the Baker Act are conducted at many facilities throughout Florida, requiring that these facilities be licensed with the Florida Department of Children and Families. The possible outcomes of an examination under the Baker Act includes the possible release of the individual back into the community or some alternative community placement if the individual is found to be competent and of no danger to him or herself or others. Additionally, a Baker Act evaluation can result in the filing of a petition that calls for involuntary inpatient or outpatient placement, which will depend on the severity of the individual’s condition and the intensity of treatment required for him or her. For those individuals who are found mentally competent and who can also recognize their own state of risk, a Baker Act evaluation can result in the individual consenting to continued treatment on a voluntary basis.

The Baker Act and Saving the Lives of Addicts

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Although the Baker Act was designed with an eye toward mental health, it can actually be an extremely helpful and even life-saving piece of the legislature for individuals who are suffering from alcohol and drug addiction as well. Opponents of the Baker Act as well as other legislature regarding involuntary institutionalization that exist nationwide have expressed concern that these types of laws have much potential for abuse with the fear being that individuals who don’t suffer from mental illness and who are of no danger to themselves or others can inadvertently become involuntarily committed for no reason. However, the Baker Act and similar legislature have safeguards against the possibility of abusing the ability to institutionalize individuals on an involuntary basis.

For example, in the case of the Baker Act, in order to institutionalize an individual for evaluation, he or she must be found to either be displaying symptoms of mental illness or be a danger to him or herself and others. What’s more, an order for involuntary commitment cannot be filed by just anyone; rather, it can only be filed by law enforcement officials, judges, mental health professionals like psychotherapists and licensed counselors, and physicians. The purpose for these restrictions is so that the determination that an individual meets the criteria for involuntary commitment is based on the person’s actual mental and physical condition, a judgment that is made free from bias and personal agenda due to being at the discretion of knowledgeable professionals.

As mentioned above, there are some instances where an individual suffering from addiction doesn’t respond to intervention efforts of family, friends, and other loved ones. In these instances, rather than continuing to watch the addict spiral out of control and eventually die, the loved ones of the addict can appeal to the addict’s physician or some other qualified professional in order to have the addict evaluated on the basis of his or her chemical dependency.

Upon being evaluated under the Baker Act, an addict will likely be given no choice but to participate in an alcohol and drug addiction treatment program. The drawback to this scenario is that the individual, who did not choose to receive treatment for him or herself, may not continue with recovery upon completion of the program and reintegrating into the community; however, while his or her recovery may only be temporary after evaluation under the Baker Act, it can be argued that the individual may not have received treatment at all had he or she not been involuntarily institutionalized. What’s more, the individual may have received addiction education over the course of treatment that might make the addict more likely to choose to initiate the journey toward recovery again in the future. In other words, it exposes the individual to the possibility of a healthier lifestyle and a better life, which the addict may begin to actively prefer at a later date.

Addiction Treatment at Ocean Breeze Recovery

If you or someone you love is suffering from alcohol or drug addiction, there are many recovery options that can help addicts rid themselves of chemical dependency. Ocean Breeze Recovery has a number of effective inpatient and outpatient programs as well as an active community of alumni, all of which can help those still suffering from addiction begin a path toward recovery. Call us today and let us start this journey with you.

Baker Acts Save Lives

The Baker Act will allow the assessment to be taken and if it is found that the patient or loved one is seriously deteriorating under the weight of their mental and physical health a petition for involuntary commitment may be made. The Baker Act allows someone who is a danger to themselves or others the ability to receive assisted treatment or involuntary outpatient or inpatient addiction treatment. If the patient or loved on is capable of making some decisions on their own they may choose to voluntarily attend treatment. If they consent to voluntary treatment they are no longer under the Baker Act guidelines and have shown to have the ability to make the right decisions for their own and others safety.

If a patient or loved one is mentally and physically deteriorating due to any kind of mental health issue or substance abuse being “Baker-acted” may be the choice that saves their life. It can be hard to watch this happen to a person we know or a loved one we care about but in a lot of instances the choice to utilize the Baker Act can save a life.

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