A letter circulated by NAMI-VT says that S.287 (a bill to expedite forced medication), would increase flexibility in the court process surrounding involuntary medication, leaving the process unchanged for some patients while creating ways to expedite the process for other patients. This is false. It would impose a limit of one continuance per party, which would affect all patients. The effect would be to speed up and facilitate involuntary medication, not to create "flexibility."

S.287 includes an automatic court review of hospital admission paperwork within 72 hours. The patient could still be held indefinitely in an emergency room with no evaluation of whether the detainment is legitimate.

According to Michael Sabourin, who often goes into these facilities as a resident advocate, involuntary medication does not reduce violence. Staff and patients are often injured in the process of performing the procedure, and patients can be violent when taking or not taking drugs.

S.287 would allow hospitals to file involuntary medication requests at the same time as commitment requests. Currently, they have to wait for the commitment request to be processed, before filing the involuntary medication request. Involuntary medication applications are filed in less than 10 percent of cases, and are granted for less than 5 percent of applications; most cases are resolved in other ways, with the patient either sufficiently recovering without drugs or choosing voluntarily to take drugs (which has a better outcome than the trauma of forced drugging). This would change drastically with S.287.

In testimony, people have described not being able to carry out their own coping plan (including praying) while on drugs due to the drugs making it impossible to think in complete sentences, the importance in their recovery of having enough time to make their own decision to take a drug, doctors claiming they were suicidal when they clearly were not, and detrimental effects of drugs on physical health.

The House recently passed the GMO labeling bill, based on the values, with products that have hazards and are poorly regulated by the FDA, the public should be able to make informed choices about whether or not to consume them. Psychiatric drugs are poorly regulated by the FDA. The drug companies create biased and fraudulent research and pay the FDA to rush the drugs through the regulatory process. The result is FDA-approved drugs that usually have very destructive adverse effects, including on the target symptom and the target organ, and that have a positive effect on a small minority of patients, unbeknownst to most doctors, including psychiatrists, who rely on the FDA for safety information. Other treatment options are needed, so patients have informed consent.

The Human Services committee is considering the bill in the context of the goals -- improving the quality of mental health care, supporting self-determination and moving away from coercion and protecting quality of life for others. The Judiciary Committee is also working on it.

According to Rep Suzi Wizowaty, we would not be having this conversation if it were not for the shortage of resources such as housing, hospital beds, and staff. Why are we not discussing how to solve the problem of resources, directly? What's most expensive is harming patients -- then they use lots more mental health resources.

The workers at the Retreat do their best to be helpful, in a situation that has limitations. A Retreat worker describes a unit where there is less than one staff for every five patients. When patients feel anxious, this is an opportunity to process, and heal from, trauma, but with so few staff, patients are encouraged to ask for highly addictive anti-anxiety drugs at those times.

Current patients in the full-day outpatient program love the program and feel helped by it. They are concerned about patients who talk in support group, about severe adverse effects of drugs, such as not sleeping for days, but don't trust their doctor enough to tell their doctor. This creates an elevated risk of the patient being harmed by the drug.

Reps talk of a "gold standard" in which there is a trusting relationship between doctor and patient, and if that doesn't happen quickly, the next step is to force-drug the patient. I think this is unsafe for the reason those Retreat outpatients explained. Also, it is inaccurate to attribute the failure of this relationship to develop, to the patient's brain chemistry. Patient relation skills on the part of doctors, and staff having time to spend individually with patients, might help.

There is pressure to pass the bill as soon as possible. Rushed drug approvals, rushed laws, rushed forced medication hearings. Rush, rush, rush. What about doing the right thing? What is the value of a human being's quality of life?

Find contact information for your legislator at http://www.leg.state.vt.us/legdir/findMyMember.cfm.

Heidi Henkel is a math tutor, dance teacher, fitness trainer and massage therapist who lives in Putney.