Alaska Supreme Court Strikes Down Forced Psychiatric Drugging–it’s Unconstitutional!

The decision restores personal rights to patients in psychiatric facilities and opens the way for overturning fifty-two illegitimate state statutes sanctioning forced psychotropic drugging.
 
"In keeping with most state courts that have addressed the issue, we hold that, in the absence of emergency, a court may not authorize the state to administer psychotropic drugs to a non-consenting mental patient unless the court determines that the medication is in the best interests of the patient and that no less intrusive alternative treatment is available."
 
The court’s thoughtful, clear and informed ruling took into account both the constitutional right to personal freedom and privacy: "To place these arguments in perspective, we must begin by considering Alaska’s statutory provisions governing treatment of mental patients."

However, the Court also took note of these drugs’ profound adverse effects–effects that are not in patients’ best interest.

Psychotropic drugs “affect the mind, behavior, intellectual functions, perception, moods, and emotions” and are known to cause a number of potentially devastating side effects.
[M]ost common . . . are the temporary, muscular side effects (extra-pyramidal symptoms) which disappear when the drug is terminated; dystonic reactions (muscle spasms, especially in the eyes, neck, face, and arms; irregular flexing, writhing or grimacing movements;  protrusion of the tongue); [and] akathesia (inability to stay still, restlessness, agitation) . . .

Additionally, there are numerous other nonmuscular effects, including drowsiness, weakness, weight gain, dizziness, fainting, low blood pressure, dry mouth, blurred vision, loss of sexual desire, frigidity, apathy, depression, constipation, diarrhea, and changes in the blood.]

Courts have observed that “the likelihood [that psychotropic drugs will cause] at least some temporary side effects appears to be undisputed”9 and many have noted that the drugs may — most infamously — cause Parkinsonian syndrome and tardive dyskinesia.
Parkinsonian syndrome consists of “muscular rigidity, fine resting tremors, a masklike face, salivation, motor retardation, a shuffling gait, and pill-rolling hand movements.”
Tardive dyskinesia involves “slow, rhythmical, repetitive, involuntary movements of the mouth, lips, and tongue”;12 it is permanent, and its symptoms cannot currently be treated.

Side effects aside, the truly intrusive nature of psychotropic drugs may be best understood by appreciating that they are literally intended to alter the mind. Recognizing that purpose, many states have equated the intrusiveness of psychotropic medication with the intrusiveness of electroconvulsive therapy and psychosurgery."

The Court noted that Alaska law recognizes and addresses a distinct class of drugs called “psychotropic medications.” The Court tacitly recognized that these drugs’ severe adverse effects legitimize patients’ refusal to ingest them.

Thus, the Court decision requires mental health professionals not only to obtain informed consent but to justify the recommended treatment and fully disclose all aspects of the proposed treatment in relation to the patient’s best interest based on personal  history, condition, and choice:

"In order to make informed decisions possible, the law requires treatment facilities to give their patients certain information concerning their situation and need for treatment, including advice about: their diagnosis; proposed medications, including possible side effects and interactions with other drugs; their medical history; alternative treatments; and a statement describing their right to give or withhold consent."

"Because psychotropic medication can have profound and lasting negative effects on a patient’s mind and body, we now similarly hold that Alaska’s statutory provisions permitting nonconsensual treatment with psychotropic medications implicate fundamental liberty and privacy interests."

IV. CONCLUSION

"We conclude that the Alaska Constitution’s guarantees of liberty and privacy require an independent judicial determination of an incompetent mental patient’s best interests before the superior court may authorize a facility like API to treat the patient with psychotropic drugs. Because the superior court did not determine Myers’s best interest before authorizing psychotropic medications, we VACATE its involuntary treatment order. Although no further proceedings are needed here because Myers’s case is now technically moot, we hold that in future non-emergency cases a court may not permit a treatment facility to administer psychotropic drugs unless the court makes findings that comply with all applicable statutory requirements and, in addition, expressly finds by clear and convincing evidence that the proposed treatment is in the patient’s best interests and that no less intrusive alternative is available."

See full 36 page referenced decision at: http://psychrights.org/States/Alaska/CaseOne/MyersOpinion.pdf

The plaintiff, Faith Myers, who had been threatened with involuntary treatment by the Alaska Psychiatric Institute,  challenged the constitutionality of the practice so that others would not face similar maltreatment.

We congratulate her lawyer, our colleague, Jim Gottstein, for his magnificent advocacy for the civil and human rights and personal dignity of individuals who are confronted with institutionalized psychiatric abuse.

Faith Myers and Jim Gottstein have earned their place in the annals of civil rights history.

Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav
212-595-8974
veracare@ahrp.org <mailto:veracare@ahrp.org>  
 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 30, 2006
***FREEDOMS FOR ALL,  IN TIME FOR THE 4th…***

Alaska Supreme Court Strikes Down Forced Psychiatric Drugging Procedures

In a resounding affirmation of personal liberty and freedom, the Alaska Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Myers v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute today.  The court found Alaska’s forced psychiatric drugging regime to be unconstitutional when the state forces someone to take psychiatric medications without proving it to be in their best interests or when there are less restrictive alternatives.  

Faith Myers, the appellant in the case, reacted to the decision saying, "It makes all of my suffering worthwhile."

Myers’ attorney, Jim Gottstein, said "By requiring the least intrusive alternative to forced psychiatric drugging, this decision has the potential to change the face of current psychiatric practice, dramatically improving the lives of  people who now find themselves at the wrong end of a hypodermic needle.“   While he acknowledged that some people find psychiatric drugs helpful, Gottstein said he pursued this case because, in addition to the drugs’ serious physical health risks, he is concerned about the rights of those who find them both unhelpful and intolerable.  He continued,   “For people who want to try non-drug approaches, the research is very clear that many will have much better long-term outcomes, including complete recovery after being diagnosed with serious mental illness.  This decision restores the rights of  those people to pursue that potential."

The Alaska Supreme Court decision noted the trial court’s concern that the statute did not allow the court to consider the problems with the drugs even though "a valid debate exists in the medically/psychiatric community as to the safety and effectiveness of the proposed treatment plan."  With this decision, trial courts are now required to consider the safety and effectiveness of the drugs in deciding whether the proposed psychiatric drugging is in the patient’s best interest.  

The Court’s Decision also makes specific mention that Alaska Statutes require the hospital to honor a patient’s previously expressed desires regarding psychiatric medications.

The full decision can be found on the Internet at http://psychrights.org/States/Alaska/CaseOne/MyersOpinion.pdf.

Detailed background about The Law Project for Psychiatric Rights, a non-profit organization, is available on the PsychRights web site: http://psychrights.org/.

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CONTACT:      
Jim Gottstein
907 274-7686
jim@psychrights.org

James B. (Jim) Gottstein, Esq.
Law Project for Psychiatric Rights
406 G Street, Suite 206
Anchorage, Alaska  99501
Phone: (907) 274-7686)  Fax: (907) 274-9493
jim@psychrights.org
http://psychrights.org/

The Law Project for Psychiatric Rights is a public interest law firm devoted to the defense of people facing the horrors of unwarranted forced psychiatric drugging.  We are further dedicated to exposing the truth about these drugs and the courts being misled into ordering people to be drugged and subjected to other brain and body damaging interventions against their will.  Extensive information about this is available on our web site, http://psychrights.org/. Please donate generously.  Our work is fueled with your IRS 501(c) tax deductible donations.  Thank you for your ongoing help and support.