Op-Ed: Legislation Should “Address a Root Cause”

Measures to Curb Violent Acts Should Focus on Untreated Mental Illness

By: Senator Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen, Passaic)

CardinaleAcross New Jersey thousands of residents who suffer from mental illness are not receiving the treatment they need. This tragedy destroys families and leads to exorbitant costs for institutionalization, substance abuse treatment and unemployment.

Untreated mental illness also presents a significant public safety risk.

If we truly want to address violence and prevent tragedies like the school massacre in Newtown, part of the solution demands we make untreated mental illness less prevalent and that we remove legal barriers to applying modern medicine to the problem. Legislation that I introduced (S2828) addresses this issue by authorizing courts to order patients with mental illness to partake in outpatient treatment. Currently, only six counties have taken advantage of legislation enacted in 2009 that enabled an involuntary outpatient treatment program.

For many who suffer from certain mental illnesses, the disease itself makes it impossible for them to recognize they are ill. Therefore, informed consent to treatment becomes an impossible and frustrating problem. Often these folks are in and out of institutions and too many commit acts of violence against themselves or others.

S2828, which is co-sponsored by Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), provides that in any county in New Jersey in which the involuntary commitment to an outpatient treatment program has not been implemented, a court may, through a conditional release provision, assign a patient who has been determined to need involuntary commitment to treatment to an outpatient treatment provider. S2828 also authorizes the court, where appropriate, to order “depot doses” – a form of medication that can be stored in a patient’s body for up to a month.

This type of legislation helps address a root cause of violence in our society. We should recognize and take advantage of new treatment modalities which have given hope that much mental illness caused violence can be eliminated.

Unfortunately, some anti gun ideologues prefer an agenda to disarm our law abiding residents leaving them vulnerable to armed criminals who could not care less about ignoring well intentioned but naive gun control measures.

We would be better advised to focus on reducing irrational tendencies for mental health patients who can suddenly take to violent behavior. We need to ensure that courts throughout our state can, when appropriate, take the steps which have a proven track record of success. Assigning patients with mental illness to involuntary outpatient treatment programs is far less costly than institutionalization or tragedies like Aurora or Newtown.

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