If, after an accidental Xanax overdose, a person went to the ER to be safe, is it legal for the hospital to force them into a psychiatric hospital for three days? What if the person told the nurses it was an accident?

This scenario occurs in Florida.

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    If you feel that your involuntary commitment is illegal, contact an attorney. If you are still in custody, an attorney may be able to get you released by filing a writ of habeas corpus. After your detention you may be able to seek legal compensation for false imprisonment.
    – Viktor
    Sep 18 '15 at 16:46

Every State in the union has some form of involuntary mental health hold. Regardless of whether or not the patient claims it was an accident, it is incumbent upon the hospital or facility where the individual is held (which is typically at least 72 hours) to do an in-depth analysis of whether the person is a danger to themselves or others. While in this scenario it may've been an inadvertent overdose, the empirical evidence suggests it could have been intentional as the practitioner cannot see into the thoughts and motivations behind the patient's actions. Even taking the patient at face-value, addiction to the extent of overdose is also a mental health issue, which may cause a person to be a danger to themselves. From a clinical perspective, it is much more likely than not that one of the two scenarios occurred, versus a truly mistaken overdose. One would need to mistake their actions numerous times in a day to take so much as to overdose.

If you look at it from the inverse perspective, if the facility failed to keep a person who'd just overdosed, or the first responder failed to initiate a hold and the person later died, minimally they would be liable if sued by the family in an action for wrongful death. The unfortunate facts are that if a person was set on committing suicide, it unlikely they would be forthcoming with that fact, for this very reason (the mandatory hold), so a person's word cannot be the determining factor. Even if someone was not intentionally trying to take their life, having taken enough Xanax to cause medical overdose would suggest the potential that even if not suicidal, the individual was at a minimum abusing the medication by taking much more than prescribed (or in a way that is contraindicated - such as with alcohol or other depressants) and potentially suffering from benzodiazepine addiction. Either way, if the hold was not initiated or cut short - and then someone ended up dying from an overdoes - the responsibility and potential liability is the same.

A person who is suicidal can reassess what may be a snap decision, or have a chemical imbalance stabilized, or a severe addiction identified in that amount of time. For the person who ctually takes so much medication as to mistakenly cause overdose, this is certainly inconvenient; however, 72 hours is a short time in the grand scheme of things to potentially save a life. The law will nearly always err on the side of safety and prevention.

  • Don't first-responders have qualified immunity from civil liability? Can a hospital incur liability, or can only licensed physicians incur liability in the form of malpractice for the failure to recognize and treat a possibly suicidal patient?
    – feetwet
    Sep 18 '15 at 13:25
  • From action (first responders do); not inaction. Yes, this would be a "breach of the standard of care", ie. professional negligence/medical malpractice
    – gracey209
    Sep 18 '15 at 13:28
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    Not when it comes to failure to report.
    – gracey209
    Sep 18 '15 at 14:18
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    These are largely state depended questions. We are talking specifically about from wrongful death when a crisis intervention or a cop comes to a scene of ior comes to know of an alleged of an attempted suicide, and fails to minimally report the individual for observation
    – gracey209
    Sep 18 '15 at 14:22
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    I think the case (not positive not home) is based on a public duty doctrine, whereas that is a specific enumerated duty of first responders. I think this is also a federal case, whereas states have specific laws in this regard. If I recall this case correctly, it was talking about how in the absence of an affirmative duty to protect a certain class of individuals (in this case we have that class) they are mainly there to keep the streets safe but not protect an individual per se. It was a bad ruling first of all (think of police motto-serve and protect), but only applied to police....
    – gracey209
    Sep 18 '15 at 14:43

I don't like citing Wikipedia, but:

The Baker Act allows for involuntary examination (what some call emergency or involuntary commitment). It can be initiated by judges, law enforcement officials, physicians, or mental health professionals. There must be evidence that the person:

  • possibly has a mental illness (as defined in the Baker Act).
  • is a harm to self, harm to others, or self neglectful (as defined in the Baker Act).

Examinations may last up to 72 hours after a person is deemed medically stable

The relevant statute is here.

  • In practicality though you have to sign a five day release and then wait five days t to leave.
    – William
    Aug 28 '18 at 0:16

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