Advocates Criticize Newsom Over Measure Aimed at Substance Use Disorder

Critics say the CARE Act, signed by Gov. Newsom, will lead to court-ordered treatment for those with substance abuse or mental health issues.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week signed a bill into law that his administration says will create “a paradigm shift that will provide individuals with severe mental health and substance use disorders the care and services they need to get healthy.”

But drug reform advocates are crying foul, saying the measure amounts to a massive government overreach.

Newsom signed the bill, known as the Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act, on Wednesday.

The Democratic governor hailed the legislation’s bipartisan support, with his office saying the new law will “provide help upstream, ahead of conservatorships and outside the walls of institutions,” while enabling “families, clinicians, first responders and others will be able to refer individuals suffering from schizophrenia spectrum or psychotic disorders.”

“With overwhelming support from the Legislature and stakeholders across California, CARE Court will now become a reality in our state, offering hope and a new path forward for thousands of struggling Californians and empowering their loved ones to help,” Newsom said in a statement. “I thank our legislators and the broad coalition of partners who made this day possible and look forward to our work ahead together to implement this transformative program in communities across California.”

Newsom’s office offered more details on what the CARE Court will do: “CARE Court will provide individuals with clinically appropriate, community-based and court-ordered Care Plans consisting of culturally and linguistically competent county mental health and substance use disorder treatment services. These include short-term stabilization medications, wellness and recovery supports, social services and housing. Services are provided to the individual while they live in the community. Plans can be between 12-24 months. In addition to their full clinical team, the client-centered approach also includes a volunteer supporter to help individuals make self-directed care decisions, and an attorney.”

The Drug Policy Alliance issued a staunch objection to the measure, saying it will “create a civil court system in all counties that would force people who are experiencing substance use disorder and other mental health issues to undergo an involuntary court process and treatment plan” and “will take away people’s basic right to make their own decisions and force them into court-mandated treatment programs, which have been shown to often exacerbate harms while worsening existing health disparities and the overrepresentation of people of color in the criminal legal system.”

The alliance added that the new law “will fail to meet the urgent needs of our communities or offer a path to effective evidence-based treatment, recovery and other health services for Californians who are unhoused, struggling with substance use disorder, or experiencing other mental health issues.” And the group said despite the bill’s overwhelming support in the California legislature, “the proposal was opposed by a wide range of advocates who feel it is a huge step in the wrong direction.”

Jeannette Zanipatin, the state director of the Drug Policy Alliance in California, said the CARE Act will have “dire consequences that will harm people who use drugs and marginalized communities in California rather than investing in the support and services that are proven to help and keep people alive.”

Zanipatin said that Newsom’s signature on the bill “demonstrates his ill-conceived support for an inhumane and forced program that has a solid body of evidence showing how counterproductive and harmful it is for both mental health and substance use disorders.”

“We need carefully thought out and evidence-based public health solutions to address the crisis we are seeing people on the ground face, including access to housing, food, job training and voluntary health services,” Zanipatin said.

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