Laura’s Law seen as a positive step in expanding mental health assistance in Orange County

November 14, 2014
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In October, Orange County became the state’s largest to implement Laura’s Law, which authorizes court-ordered outpatient treatment for people with severe mental illness. UC Irvine Health psychiatrist Jody M. Rawles, MD, who is active in efforts to reform existing mental health laws, says that the psychiatric community views the law as a positive step.

Also known as Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT), Laura’s Law offers an additional option for providing treatment to individuals who are seriously mentally ill and have otherwise refused treatment.                                     

“AOT is a proactive response to help solve a real problem in Orange County,” said Rawles, associate professor and interim chair, UC Irvine Health Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior. “It won’t work for everyone, but it is especially helpful for parents with mentally ill children between the ages of 18 and 25.  Like any other illness, the longer a mental illness goes untreated, the more difficult it is and the longer it takes for treatment to make a difference. If we can reach them early enough, there is a much greater opportunity for intervention and treatment success.”

Under the law, if a mentally ill person meets certain criteria, an immediate family member or adult residing with the individual, a medical professional, or a law enforcement officer can ask the court to direct that person to receive medical treatment on an outpatient basis. Since there are no civil or criminal penalties incurred for refusing to participate, the law’s power lies in the “black robe” effect of the judge being strong enough to convince the mentally ill person to accept treatment.

“This is not a panacea, but Orange County is better off for having implemented the law than not,” Rawles said. “The law is a process, intended to provide those who care about and deal with the mentally ill a new way to reach out and offer help.”

Laura’s Law is named for Laura Wilcox, a 19-year old volunteer who was one of three people shot and killed by a mentally ill person who had refused treatment at a behavioral health clinic in California’s Nevada County in 2001.

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