Police Involvement

The question comes up in the minds of teenagers: Will parents be called in if I show up in the hospital for treatment? Will the police be called for evidence of underage drinking or use of illicit drugs? Will I be involuntarily committed to an institution?

Each state has specific consent statutes for minors.15 Emancipated minors, under eighteen, are those in the military, are married , are parents, or live independently of their parents. They may be able to consent for their own treatment. Usually minors can consent for themselves to treatments for mental health, drug use or addiction.

If the patient is unconscious or incapable of deciding for or against treatment, some states rule that consent rights go to relatives, starting with the nearest ones. A quick rule to determine a course of action is to choose, in a common sense way, what is best for the patient, especially when the legal consent holder does not seem to be acting in the patient’s best interest. An incompetent patient may be forcibly held back from leaving to prevent danger to himself or others, under the Psychiatric Commitment Law.

Whether or not police are called into the emergency room to arrest juveniles in drug-related cases is often a judgment call on the part of hospital staff. The police may already be involved in accident cases. In 1995, 16,500 teens between ages twelve and seventeen were admitted to hospital emergency rooms for drug episodes.16 Eleven percent used drugs on a monthly basis. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, relevant information about juvenile offenders can be shared between schools, law enforcement agencies and health service providers with or without parental consent, depending on the emergency status of the situation. 17