Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"A Family Guide to the Florida Marchman Act" from Addiction Recovery Legal Services, LLC

A Family Guide to the Florida Marchman Act

by Contributor: Raymond G. Ferrero III, Esq.
CEO / Ironlight Consortium, LLC.

Let me first introduce myself. I am Raymond G. Ferrero III, Esq. I am I am an educator, family advocate, and former partner with the Florida based law firm: Addiction Recovery Legal Services, LLC. During that time, I also served as the Executive Director of Heath Affairs for Nova Southeastern University’s Health Professions Division, Chair of NSU's Institute for Behavioral Health and Wellness, as well as a former Gubernatorial Appointee to Florida's Statewide Drug Policy Advisory Committee.

It is my great pleasure to be writing this brief overview of the Florida Marchman Act for your family. Let me begin by saying that this is an often misunderstood law, which is often (unfortunately) mishandled by well meaning family members or treatment providers, as they attempt to advocate within the legal system without license to do so, or ability. For over a decade, I have been actively involved in Florida’s mental health community and Marchman Act Courts.  I have witnessed the Florida Marchman Act develop from what was once a little known (and, little understood) law into what is now recognized throughout Florida and nationally as one of a family’s most powerful intervention tools to assist someone in substance use crisis within any family unit. Professionally, I take great pride in my work, and find great satisfaction counseling / advising families about how the Florida Marchman Act is able to assist them to address the trauma associated with having to save a loved one in crisis. Personally, I take even greater pleasure when I witness the often surprised reaction a family experiences when they realize that this law actually empowers them to deal with a problem once considered hopeless - head on and without unnecessary delay.

The Florida Marchman Act, when properly litigated by an experienced attorney with a full understanding of the nuances and powers of this law, becomes a legal process that will: (1) establish consequences and hold an impaired individual legally accountable for their continued substance abuse; and (2) empower families with a legal mechanism to interrupt the stranglehold the individuals addiction has on the people around them; and (3) become an invaluable clinical support tool for the recovery team. 

Let’s begin our overview of the Florida Marchman Act…

What is the Florida Marchman Act?

Most simply put, the Florida Marchman Act is an “involuntary commitment statute”. However, I believe it should more aptly be called a "crisis intervention statute." Specifically, the Florida Marchman Act is a legal process and procedure that allows the family OR friends (at least three) of someone in crisis to confidentially petition a civil court judge to help them address their loved one's substance use crisis. So, how does the court help? If the evidence exists, a civil court judge can order the individual in crisis to mandatory drug and/or alcohol “assessment & stabilization” (in layman's terms - a detox) and then into subsequent treatment (that the court will then overseen for up to (60) sixty days. An order that can be extended in 90 day increments with credible evidence demonstrating such a need. 

The key to a Florida Marchman Act "orders for assessment and treatment" are that the period of detox and the subsequent treatment become “involuntary”. Put another way, the impaired individual, or, Respondent, must comply with any and all treatment recommendations made by the licensed substance abuse professional, and/or licensed treatment provider - or, face legal consequences by the court for their non-compliance.  I refer to this as “compulsive care” or “leveraged care”. Accordingly, once the court order has been entered, the person in crisis must complete assessment, stabilization and/or treatment. The person in crisis no longer has a choice in the matter. In fact, even if the individual in crisis has an extensive medical history of relapse, repeatedly refusing voluntary detox and/or treatment, or, has a history of leaving detox and/or treatment against medical advice; once the Florida Marchman Act order is in place, the impaired individual will likely attempt to again refuse care and repeat prior behavior patterns. However, now, in order to do so, they must also deal with the consequences of their actions.

Under the Florida Marchman Act, if an individual refuses to comply with treatment once ordered, they subject themselves to contempt of court and possibly jail time for up to (6) six months (per the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure for civil contempt violations). This may seem harsh, but recognize foremost that the intention of the Florida Marchman Act statute is to provide treatment - not punishment.  The intent of the court is only to see that their order is followed - again, not punish. Accordingly, any person sentenced to jail under the Florida Marchman Act for contempt will always be given a "purge provision". A purge provision means that they can “purge” their jail sentence for contempt at any time by doing one simple thing: re-entering and re-engaging treatment. At all times the person in crisis holds the keys to the jail. This is why I call it leveraged care versus involuntary 
commitment. At no time is the individual allowed to be physically held or restrained - the choice is always their own as to how they wish to proceed.

What is the history of the Florida Marchman Act?

The Marchman Act was passed in 1993 by the Florida Legislature and is officially entitled the Hal S. Marchman Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services Act of Florida.  The Marchman Act was named after Hal S. Marchman, a pastor and lifelong advocate for the rights of alcoholics and drug addicts throughout Florida.  Ironically, Hal S. Marchman held worldwide recognition, not for his service to addicts, but as the Chaplain of the Daytona International Speedway, who gave the invocation at the beginning of every race for 42 years before retiring at the age of 85.  Hal S. Marchman passed in October of 2009 in Daytona, Florida.

Why did Florida enact the Florida Marchman Act?

In many ways, Florida is an extremely progressive state in its recognition of the growing trend of substance use across the nation and the need of the state and community to play a role in addressing the consequences that addiction has upon society as a whole.  Especially, when an individual in crisis reaches the progressive stage of addiction whereby their substance use escalates to the point that it poses a danger not only to themselves, but also the public at large. Science has conclusively demonstrated that chronic substance use and abuse of substances can impaired an individual to such a degree that they lose the ability to make rational decisions regarding their own care. More so, that the person in crisis actually loses the ability to even appreciate their own need for care despite the devastatingly negative consequences associated with the substance use. Left unchecked this will progress along the typical stages of clinical addiction toward death. The Florida legislature recognized that an avenue for intervention (without criminal penalty) was necessary for the protection of society and the impaired individual. Thus, the Hal S. Marchman Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services Act of Florida was adopted and entered into law in 1993.

Specifically, The Florida Marchman Act – F.S. §397.305 recognize(s):

“Substance abuse is a major health problem and leads to such profoundly disturbing consequences as serious impairment, chronic addiction, criminal behavior, vehicular casualties, spiraling health care costs, AIDS, and business losses, and profoundly affects the learning ability of children within our schools and educational systems. Substance abuse impairment is a disease which affects the whole family and the whole society and requires specialized prevention, intervention, and treatment services that support and strengthen the family unit.”

When should you actually consider using the Florida Marchman Act?

That is actually a simple decision. The friends or family of an individual in crisis should consider pursuing Florida Marchman Act intervention, if the individual in crisis simply refuses  any offer of assistance despite the clear substance use concern. This includes individuals who continuously promise to get help but never take any steps to do so. Remember, addiction is well established as a progressive disease. Addiction is disease that simply does not get better on its own over time, if left untreated. In fact, the opposite is true. Addiction is a chronic medical condition that is progressive in nature (having well-defined stages) that can only be first treated by abstinence. Without intervention and immediate abstinence, addiction is not only a chronic disease; addiction is a fatal disease. Those are the facts. Accordingly, the sooner one intervenes in the progression of an individual’s chronic substance use the better.

Just to be clear, although I said above that the decision seek Marchman Act assistance is a simple one, please do not get the impression that I fail to recognize the difficult decision a family faces, when deciding to seek court assistance for a loved one in crisis. It is a terrible thing to have to do in the grand scheme, but in most cases the only thing that can be done. There are also many factors that a family must consider. When counseling a family, I typically ask them to consider the following: (1) the behavior of the person in crisis, and their substance use will continue until some overriding, significant uniquely personal consequence interrupts their use cycle; (2) most often, the person in crisis does not get better alone, or without great (unnecessary) hardship without something being done to assist them; and (3) there are ultimately only two possible outcomes for an individual who progresses through the stages of chronic substance use and addiction: jail or the morgue. 

Is this a big decision? Yes, this is a big decision.  However, I cannot stress enough, Florida Marchman Act courts are truly nothing to be intimidated by or feared. The Florida Marchman Act courts exist to help families and individuals in crisis. Even in a scenario, where a family only has a mere suspicion that a person is substance abuse impaired (instances often experienced by the parents of juveniles or young adults), filing a Florida Marchman Act can be an incredibly effective tool to simply uncover what (if anything) is actually going on. Also, there is absolutely nothing harmful that will result from initiating this process for anyone involved - if, properly addressed by legal counsel. The person filing a Florida Marchman Act and the person on the receiving end of a Florida Marchman Act have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Remember: The Florida Marchman Act is a civil process, not criminal.  All hearings are held in closed courtrooms and the process is strictly confidential in nature.  Filing a Florida Marchman Act will never impose a criminal court ramification upon a person's legal record. The intent of the Florida Marchman Act is treatment, not punishment.  More so, because addiction is a medical condition, the Florida Marchman Act process as mentioned previously is strictly confidential. Any and all assessment and/or treatment records; including the Florida Marchman Act petitions, are protected by Federal HIPPA law (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996).  Accordingly, being proactive versus reactive in these situations is incredibly helpful.  Don't simply wait and hope that things will somehow get better.

What are the criteria required to prove a Florida Marchman Act case?

Before I discuss the criteria of the Florida Marchman Act, let me first thank you for taking the time to read this brief overview. I hope that this information was helpful.  Everyone knows someone who may be in need of substance abuse services, so feel free to pass this information on to another.  This information can save families years of frustration and thousands of dollars in treatment costs.

In conclusion, I leave you with the following criteria established by the Florida Marchman Act statute that I review with every family I counsel.  More often than not, simply hearing the following criteria becomes their “Ah-ha” moment for recognizing that a loved one truly needs help and recognizing that The Florida Marchman Act is the next step they need to take:

"A court may grant a Petition for Involuntary Assessment, Stabilization and/or Treatment, if there is a reasonable belief that the individual is substance abuse impaired and the individual: 

(a)   has lost the power of self-control with respect to substance use;

and, either

(b)   has inflicted or is likely to inflict physical harm on him/herself or others unless admitted;

(c) the person's judgment is so impaired they are incapable ofappreciating the need for care and making a rational decisionregarding such care;


(d)   the person has refused to seek voluntary care.

Raymond G. Ferrero III, Esq., A Family Guide to the Florida Marchman Act © 2008


How do I file a Marchman Act Petition?

Call 1-877-35-ABUSE for a $75.00 detailed consultation by attorney Alan S. Levine, Esq. The above overview has been offered as a general overview of the Florida Marchman Act process. Litigating the Florida Marchman Act statute should be done by an attorney well versed and experienced in Florida Marchman Act law. As in any legal procedure, you should always seek the advice of an experience legal professional to ensure the best possible approach for success.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In an old comment thread, that you can no longer reply under the comments, I saw someone asking about support for friends and family members of addicts.
There was a very informative suggestion made by ARLS to contact Al-anon.
I wanted to post about some more resources for the family members and friends of addicts. I think some of the people reading these blogs may need the support, but don't know where to begin.
So, in addition to Al-anon there is also Nar-Anon (which accompanies Narcotics anonymous). That is a great resource for people who are dealing with addicts of more substances instead of (or as well as) alcohol.

There are so many circumstances where going to meetings may not work for people, or they need additional support. In that case there are many online support group websites.
(As always, it is smart to take every precaution to protect your personal information when connecting with strangers online.)
One I can personally suggest is:
which has many different topic specific groups.
the link to "families and friends of addicts- support group" is

it is a great way to network for support, and you can access support 24/7 from the comfort of your home. (or anytime anywhere from a smartphone!)

I hope this helps a few people get through the hard times.