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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Mental health policy reform bills backed by ASSMCA, AIPA

Officials from the Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration and IPAS appeared at the public hearing presided over by House Health Committee Chairwoman Sol Higgins Cuadrado.

By The Star Staff

The House Health Committee on Tuesday began the process of public hearings on House Bills 837 and 1485, which seek to amend Act 408-2000, known as the Puerto Rico Mental Health Law and to repeal Law 67-1993, known as the Addiction and Mental Health Services Administration Act.

“With this public hearing we seek to establish a conversation on a topic as important as mental health with the purpose of being visible and the objective being to find solutions to something that is increasingly complicated in our country,” Health Committee Chairwoman Sol Higgins Cuadrado said. “Our citizens need help and it is imperative that we all work for the well being of every person who is going through these processes.”

Officials from the Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration (ASSMCA by its Spanish initials) and IPAS President Rubén Santos Rodríguez appeared at the public hearing.

The IPAS Association (AIPA by its Spanish initials) supports and endorses both bills.

“For AIPAs it is necessary to go further and amend the Mental Health Act (408-2000) so that it benefits all mental health patients in Puerto Rico, regardless of being insurers or beneficiaries of public or private health plans,” said the vice president of the AIPAs, Ángel Montaner, who added that the law should be integrated into the medical primary treatment plan and multidisciplinary team of mental health services.

“AIPAs believes that it is essential that primary care physicians be part of the professionals who attend to mental health services in order to achieve prevention, early care, follow-up, rehabilitation and mental health treatment of citizens of Puerto Rico who need it so much,” Montaner said.

As for HB 1485, AIPAs noted that it is aligned with a prestigious Harvard University study entitled “Involuntary Civil Commitment for Substance Use Disorders in Puerto Rico: Neglected Rights Violations and Implications for Legal Reform,” where it was identified that on the island medical professionals or health workers are seldom used in cases of substance abuse, but rather people who have had substance abuse problems in the past.

“This study recommends that the current procedure established in the 408-2000 Law be used on the island and the ASSMCA Act be repealed,” Montaner said. “House Bill 1485 is one that constitutes a breakthrough step in our jurisdiction, which like all other jurisdictions of the United States has left behind this unnecessary and obsolete procedure that does not take into account the fundamental rights of people.”

Meanwhile, Carlos Cruz Rosado, an ASSMCA official, emphasized the agency’s support for both bills, as long as several recommendations it submitted to the committee are accepted.

As for HB 1485, authored by Reps. Mariana Nogales Molinelli and Denis Márquez Lebrón, Cruz Rosado said it should “emphasize and analyze the legislation according to the particularities and reality corresponding to mental health care and problems caused by the consumption of substances in our country; repealing, without further ado, Section 11 of Law 67, in our opinion, would create a legal vacuum for the involuntary entry of people who need treatment for substance or alcohol abuse or dependence.”

Similarly, the ASSMCA officials recommended court jurisdiction in the cases of drug addiction without reference to the definition of “mental health services,” and the allocation of funds and resources for the establishment of educational campaigns aimed at reducing stigma and raising awareness among patients and health professionals regarding the value of treatment for addiction.

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