Experiences of Court Clinicians Who Perform Civil Commitment Evaluations for Substance Use Disorders

J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 2021 Jun;49(2):187-193. doi: 10.29158/JAAPL.200061-20. Epub 2021 Feb 12.


Civil commitment for substance use disorders is an increasingly used intervention to mitigate the risks associated with severe substance use. Although court clinicians play a vital role in helping courts determine whether respondents meet statutory requirements for commitment, little is known about their experiences conducting these evaluations. In this pilot study, we surveyed all court clinicians who perform evaluations for civil commitment for substance use disorders in Massachusetts, a state with one of the highest rates of such commitments nationally. Court clinicians reported that these evaluations are most frequently ordered for individuals who use heroin and other opioids, alcohol, and cannabis. They reported a recent suicide attempt or drug overdose, intentional physical harm to another, use of dangerous weapon, and driving while intoxicated as the behaviors most likely to satisfy the statutory requirement of imminent risk. At the same time, many court clinicians consider a much broader range of behaviors as constituting imminent risk, and many reported having endorsed commitment on one or more occasions in the absence of statutory criteria being satisfied. These findings underscore the need for additional research on the performance of civil commitment evaluations for substance use disorder and standards for such evaluations.

Keywords: civil commitment; courts; involuntary; substance abuse; substance use disorder.

MeSH terms

  • Commitment of Mentally Ill / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Dangerous Behavior*
  • Female
  • Health Risk Behaviors*
  • Humans
  • Involuntary Commitment / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Male
  • Massachusetts
  • Pilot Projects
  • Risk Assessment
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*