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CISWH Director Tami Gouveia Speaks at Boston Addiction Conference

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Massachusetts’ Section 35 law allows for the involuntary commitment of men with substance use disorders into jail settings for addiction treatment. This important topic was the focus of a recent panel discussion at the inaugural Boston Addiction Conference, featuring Dr. Tami Gouveia, CISWH director. Massachusetts is the only state that still court-orders men to prisons and jails for treatment, even if they have not committed a crime. Dr. Gouveia joined other experts who discussed needed reforms to the law and called for an end to sending men to prison for addiction treatment. 

Research suggests that involuntary treatment of substance use disorders is a risk factor for overdose. Public health experts and policymakers are advocating for reforms to the law that would prohibit addiction treatment in correctional institutions. 

“The field of substance use treatment has evolved over the last 25 years, but lawmakers haven’t kept up with those changes,” Dr. Gouveia said. “One of the biggest challenges with getting legislation passed is that lawmakers are not experts in our field. Unless they have personal experience with substance use disorder or mental health, then they are not living the day-to-day like so many of us are.”

Dr. Gouveia described how efforts to reform Section 35 have been stalled in the legislature – currently, the reforms have been filed in the last three legislative sessions. She noted that men with substance use disorders should not be forced into the prison system if they have not committed a crime. If we are to reduce stigma and harm in substance use treatment, it cannot be tied to the carceral system. 

“As a field, we do not fully agree whether or not forced treatment is effective, but we can all agree that sending men to a jail setting for treatment is inhumane, inappropriate, and ineffective,” Dr. Gouveia said.