Court gives mentally ill right to refuse drugs Decision applies unless patient poses danger in hospital


A state appeals court has made it harder for psychiatrists to make involuntarily committed mental patients take drugs they don't want.

fTC The Court of Special Appeals ruled Thursday that mental patients involuntarily committed to state and private hospitals may be forced to take medication only when they pose a danger within the facility -- and not just whenever a psychiatrist decides it will help.

"We believe it is obvious that it was the intent of the General Assembly to ensure that involuntarily admitted mentally ill individuals be forcibly medicated only when all else fails," Judge William W. Wenner wrote in a published ruling.

The court reversed an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court order to give drugs to David Martin, a 35-year-old Baltimore man involuntarily committed to Crownsville State Hospital Center in 1995.

"It's a terrific decision, it really is," said Kelly Bagby, one of the lawyers for the Maryland Disability Law Center who represented Martin.

She said the ruling will force state officials to reinterpret a 1991 law that therapists had widely used to forcibly medicate mentally ill patients, whether or not they posed a danger.

State health records show that as of June 1994, 305 patients in state and private mental facilities were on forced medication orders, she said.

Assistant Attorney General David R. Morgan, who represented the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said that it will make it harder for psychiatrists to treat uncooperative mental patients.

"It will likely result in patients not getting the treatment that they need in an efficient manner and will make for longer hospital stays," Morgan said.

He said his office is weighing whether to ask the Court of Appeals to reverse the ruling by the intermediate appeals court.

Martin was committed after his brother reported to state authorities that he was unable to care for himself and had walked into traffic after an argument at the Greyhound bus terminal in the 200 block of W. Fayette St.

Martin's condition was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia and was confined June 11, 1995, to a locked ward at Crownsville Hospital Center, where he "exhibited ritualized behaviors and suffered from strong religious delusions, believed he was 'chosen of God' and forbidden to eat grape jelly or other products of the vine," according to court records.

Dr. Silverine Samaranyake, a Crownsville psychiatrist, prescribed Prolixin and Cogentin to "lessen Martin's suspiciousness and clear his thought process," according to court records. Bagby said Martin refused to take the Prolixin because it is known to cause heart problems and increase chances of a stroke.

"I'm not saying that he wasn't suffering from some mental problems at the time, but he had legitimate reasons for doing what he did," she said.

Martin was unavailable Thursday, but Bagby said that he was discharged from Crownsville about 18 months ago, is living in Baltimore studying to be a minister and looking for work as a security guard.

Martin filed suit in Anne Arundel Circuit Court to prevent the medications from being administered, arguing that he didn't need them because he was not a danger.

The court agreed Thursday, reversing an Oct. 19, 1995, ruling by now-retired Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Bruce C. Williams.

The appeals court said that Martin "never exhibited any violent or dangerous behavior" and that there was no reason to force such patients to take medications that they don't want.

"To the contrary, the evidence showed that during his stay at Crownsville, Mr. Martin was entirely passive and spent most of his time alone, reading the Bible in his room," Wenner wrote for a three-judge panel.

Pub Date: 3/29/97

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