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Massachusetts is one of only three states without this mental health law

I-Team: Advocates push for Assisted Outpatient Treatment in Massachusetts
I-Team: Advocates push for Assisted Outpatient Treatment in Massachusetts 03:55

BOSTON - Some advocates are pushing for a new mental health law in Massachusetts that they say could prevent countless tragedies.

The mother of one 22-year-old from Cape Cod told the WBZ I-Team how he spiraled in a mental breakdown and assaulted his own father. "He had him in a headlock and he was punching him several times... He started biting, and the biting was accompanied with growling and animal sounds... meanwhile trying to bash his father's head into the pavement... He was going to try and kill his father."

She feels the incident could have been avoided if he had been taking prescribed medications and following through with a treatment plan. But she says like so many other patients with mental illness, her son does not think he needs help. "Why would he ask for services," she said. "Why would he take medicine if he thinks he's fine?"

Crimes attributed to mental health

The list of recent Massachusetts crimes in which investigators cite mental health is exhaustive. It includes Christopher Ferguson accused in a Newton triple murder, Duxbury mom Lindsay Clancy accused of killing her own children, and Aaron Pennington who disappeared after police say he killed his wife in Gardner.

New law proposed

Some are lobbying for a proposed law called Assisted Outpatient Treatment, or AOT, which they say could help. Massachusetts is one of only three states in the country that does not have it on the books.

"Families, really, you can be begging for help and there is none available until somebody meets the criteria for being dangerous," said Ann Corcoran, who heads a group called the National Shattering Silence Coalition.

How AOT works  

She says doctors, mental health professionals, relatives, or a housemate would be able to petition a civil court to order treatment. Only extreme cases would be eligible: those who've been in residential treatment at least twice in three years and have a history of not sticking with a care plan once they're released. A civil court judge regularly checks in for one year.

"A psychiatrist, a case worker, therapist, a peer would be involved in that," said Corcoran. "So, I think that's...what we're missing in Massachusetts because there's no follow up." 

What about patient rights?

The Massachusetts branch of the most widely known mental health advocacy group, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, did not respond to the I-Team's request for an interview, but the group filed testimony at the Massachusetts State House opposing the legislation.

NAMI is concerned patients could lose "the right to make...personal decisions about their own healthcare." The testimony says "...there are many, many stories about the trauma experienced by individuals living with a mental health condition when they are subjected to involuntary treatment, or AOT."

Parents urge passage of new mental health law

Acton parents Vinita and Ashoke Rampuria also testified before lawmakers. "It's high time Massachusetts join the other states," Vinita told the I-Team. The couple founded a group called AOT Now. "My goal is to save my son," said Ashoke. Their 36-year-old has been hospitalized more than 40 times since college. "He was so intelligent, he went to the University of Pennsylvania for computer science," said Vinita.

They say AOT would prevent their son from falling off his medication. "He wants to get a job, live an independent life, and we have seen that he can do it with the right medication, and if this law gets him there, then he can get his life back," said Ashoke.

The proposed AOT legislation is now with the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, where the deadline for a vote to push it forward has been extended until the end of April. 

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