What can you do if someone you love wants to hurt themselves? If the underlying cause is mental illness, one option is to have them involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment.
But, if the underlying cause is addiction, things get much harder.
Lauren Davis and Ricky Garcia know this first hand. Garcia used to be an addict and Davis went through two years of hell with him – hospital visits, overdoses and suicide attempts.
“I remember coming to find you, laying in a bed just shaking so violently and crying and punching the wall. And you were going through withdrawal and having panic attacks and you were sitting there telling me that you wanted to die and that you were going to kill yourself,” Davis said to Garcia.
Garcia also remembers the hopelessness he felt during that time.
“I’d lost hope that anyone could ever help me. I felt so lost and I felt like I had passed the point of no return,” Garcia said.
But Davis stood by him. And Garcia said that’s what got him through.
“She was the one who stuck around through absolutely everything. She never left my side. She was the one who held my hope when I couldn’t hold it for myself. She was the one I leaned on, she was the one who believed in me,” Garcia said.
“I don’t think I’d be here if it weren’t for you,” he added, speaking to Davis.
It wasn’t easy. Davis admits there were times when she wanted to walk away. But something always pulled her back.
“I feel like God knew that your parents wanted to do everything to save their son but they couldn’t – because they couldn’t speak English, because they couldn’t drive, because they couldn’t read and write, because they didn’t understand mental health and addiction, and because your dad was dying of cancer,” Davis said to Garcia.
“I think that’s why God sent me. And he put the same love that a parent would have for their child, he put that love in me for you.”
Despite her resolve to stand by her friend, Davis said she often felt there was very little she could do.
She was told repeatedly to plan for Garcia’s funeral, “because under Washington state law you cannot involuntarily commit someone for addiction even if they’re dying,” Davis said.
Now that Garcia is sober, he and Davis want to change that. They’re behind a bill called Ricky’s Law, which is currently in front of state lawmakers.
Ricky’s Law would allow a person who has life threatening addiction, is at risk of harm to themselves or to others, or is gravely disabled by their addiction to be involuntarily committed for life-saving treatment.
Currently involuntary commitment exists for people who meet this bar with mental health issues, but not for addicts, Davis said, at least not in practice.
Technically, Washington state law says that an addict can be involuntarily committed to treatment if they’re a risk to themselves or others. But there’s a caveat – it’s on a space-available basis.
“But the state doesn’t have a single locked detox facility; not for kids and not for adults,” Davis said.
That’s what Ricky’s Law would change.
“It would compel the state to treat people who are dying of addiction and to build the facilities to treat these individuals,” Davis said.
Shilo Murphy of the People's Harm Reduction Alliance told KUOW that Washington's limited resources should be spent guaranteeing care for those who want treatment before forcing it on those who don’t.
He said that no addict should ever be forced into treatment, arguing that it's not the way to help people and it makes addicts feel worse about themselves.
Garcia has been sober for more than three years. He said his struggle with addiction would have been cut short if a law like this had been in place for him.
“To have a system in place to kind of stop you on your tracks of destruction is important because some of us need that. Some of us need someone to walk us through. Some of us need something to stop us from killing ourselves. And this would do that,” Garcia said.