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Addiction in Franklin County

When to commit an addict against her will

Drug addiction is not in itself illegal, and for the family members of addicts it can feel as though they have little legal recourse.

Kara “Karalyn” Niedbala of Greenfield would have been 36 in August.

Instead, she died last July, on Independence Day, after overdosing on crack cocaine and an antidepressant.

Kathleen Niedbala said she tried at least twice to have her daughter committed to a treatment program, and believes she fell through the cracks of the system.

Chapter 123, Section 35 of the Massachusetts General Laws permits involuntary committal of alcoholics or substance abusers. Under the law, a spouse, blood relative or guardian, any police officer, physician or court official may petition the court for committal. The individual in question is then summoned to court for a hearing including medical testimony. If the judge determines the person “is an alcoholic or substance abuser and there is a likelihood of serious harm as a result of the person’s alcoholism or substance abuse,” they may be committed for a maximum of 90 days to an approved treatment facility or the state prisons at Bridgewater or Framingham.

Upon the end of the mandatory stay, the patient is encouraged to consent to voluntary treatment and allowed to stay on if they choose.

“Twice I tried to have her sectioned and the judge let her go, only to have her go back and use,” Niedbala said.

“I guess their rights are more important than their lives.”

Niedbala said she was really hoping Kara would have to stay in a long-term treatment program, but doesn’t think it would necessarily have worked.

“With Kara, I don’t think so. She had a lot of trouble following the rules of life,” Niedbala said.

Niedbala remembers her daughter as funny and outgoing, but struggling with addiction for at least 10 to 15 years. “I think she lived for that chase; she was always chasing that high,” she said.

In the end, Niedbala believes her daughter was trying to bring herself down from a cocaine high with the antidepressant when the combination killed her.

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