Lewis County’s judicial officials plan to be ready when substance abuse treatment cases from all over the state start arriving this week.
On April 1, an amendment to the Involuntary Treatment Act took effect, allowing court-mandated detox for patients with acute drug addiction. Only two facilities in Washington qualify for the program, one of them being the American Behavioral Health Systems location in Chehalis.
As a result, patients from throughout Western Washington will be brought into the area, creating an increase in the county’s legal caseload.
“We’re scrambling,” said Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund. “It’s been quite hectic to put everything in place. Since we’re the first, we’re breaking new ground.”
Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer said, “This is an important step that the state has taken. I think it shows a lot of confidence that Lewis County is going to have the only one in Western Washington. It shows a lot of confidence in the judicial system as well as the treatment system, the prosecution and defense.”
Once patients have been detained for detox for 72 hours, the Chehalis facility may petition for an extension if they believe further treatment is required. The prosecutor’s office will evaluate and decide whether to back those petitions in a hearing. If the patient opposes further involuntary treatment, they can be appointed a defense attorney to fight for their release. Meanwhile, Lewis County Superior Court will be responsible for holding such hearings, which will take place on Tuesdays and Fridays.
The court has added two pro tem commissioners, one for mental health commitments which will take place in Centralia, and one for substance abuse hearings. Those hearings will be held at a Lewis County District Court courtroom, though they will be conducted by Superior Court. Eventually, the hope is to add a room that can serve as a courtroom for the behavioral health facility.
The pro tem commissioner positions are just part of efforts to increase staff in advance of the new law. Lewis County Superior Court also is hiring four defense attorneys to represent patients, and the prosecutor’s office is adding a paralegal.