House unanimously passes Longietti/Nelson bill to help save drug rehab patients who leave facilities against medical advice

Would mandate emergency contact notification

HARRISBURG, April 20 – Loved ones of patients who check themselves out of drug rehabilitation facilities against medical advice would have a chance to learn of those potentially ill-fated decisions while there is still time to intervene under legislation the House passed unanimously today, according to the bill’s co-prime sponsor, state Rep. Mark Longietti.

House Bill 944, co-authored by Longietti, D-Mercer, and state Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Westmoreland, would require inpatient rehabilitation facilities to notify a patient’s designated emergency contact – a move that is already considered best practice but is not mandatory under current law – when a patient leaves addiction treatment against medical advice.

“The science shows that people in the throes of addiction have diminished capacity for good decision-making and are easily lured back to drugs by their dealers or enablers,” Longietti said. “And sadly, statistics show the notification gap has resulted in overdose deaths as well as victimization of vulnerable patients.

“Requiring facilities to notify emergency contacts when patients discharge themselves against medical advice doesn’t guarantee a successful outcome, but it opens a window for lifesaving intervention by giving family members a chance to get their loved ones back to a safe place.”

Longietti said the bill does not change anything about protected confidential information governed by existing federal or state laws and that there are exceptions for cases when the patient revoked consent to notify the emergency contact or when the facility knew or had reason to know of allegations of domestic violence by the emergency contact.

The bill is also known as Heather’s Law, after a woman who suffered a fatal overdose within 12 hours of checking herself out of an addiction recovery facility and going to her drug dealer’s house.

The Longietti/Nelson bill is one of a trio of bills the House passed unanimously today to help Pennsylvanians and their families battling addiction. The other two bills include H.B. 220, which would specify that a person does not need to test positive in order to begin addiction treatment, and H.B. 741, also known as “Justin’s Law,” which would require notification of an emergency contact when someone leaves, or is evicted from, a recovery house.