OH judges get more options for ordering treatment

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Probate court judges would be given the authority to order outpatient treatment for people struggling with mental illness under a bill approved by the Ohio House.

Judges say the bill, which passed 87-6 on Wednesday, would give them options other than committing a person to a mental hospital. It now goes to the Senate.

Terry Russell, head of the National Alliance for Mental Illness Ohio, said it's a major step for the state. He said the bill would save lives by giving judges more clout to "help people who need help, but don't get help."

"This is for people who are seen repeatedly in front of a judge and their illness is so severe they can't stay out of harm's way," Russell said. "We've had so many catastrophes around the country where people resist treatment."

Russell said the bill would allow judges to place people in the "least restrictive environment," which is outpatient treatment. Commitment to a state hospital is far more restrictive and more expensive to taxpayers, he said.

Opponents claim the bill would strip mentally ill people of their civil liberties by allowing family members to force them to get treatment, whether or not they want or need it.

Linda Hutchison of Columbus testified in favor of the bill at House hearings. Her 45-year-old son Joey, who was bipolar, died Jan. 16, 2008, when he left home without warning, got into an accident, then ran into traffic on Interstate 270.

"I tried for four months to get him off the street, but he resisted treatment," Hutchison said Wednesday after the House vote. "They said, 'There's nothing we can do.' I told them we've got to get him off the street or he's going to die. And that's what happened."

The Columbus Dispatch (http://bit.ly/J9Ia9r ) reported that the only lawmaker to speak against the legislation was Rep. Tom Letson, a Warren Democrat. He said it's a good bill, but there isn't money available to pay for it.

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com