Forcing drug users into treatment is a violent policy in BC, Alberta and around the world


Interventions that do not involve human rights have been given various names, including involuntary institutionalization, coercive drug treatment, “compulsory treatment”, coercive abstinence, or a combination of all of these.

Involuntary treatment in the global South is considered inhumane by rights-based organizations such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNAIDS, and Human Rights Watch.

But after years of inability to pay for housing, a growing supply of toxic drugs and a lack of access to voluntary mental health assistance, Alberta’s provincial elections on May 29 are approaching. Canada’s mainstream political parties, including the United Conservative Party (UCP), appear to be considering the following ideas as the country’s mainstream political parties approach provincial elections on May 29. Those most affected by inequality and poverty simply disappear through involuntary institutionalization.

The British Columbia NDP, led by David Eby, and the BC Unionist Party, led by Kevin Falcon, have raised the idea of ​​expanding forced institutionalization to include aspects of drug use.

In Alberta, the UCP, led by Daniel Smith, has also proposed arresting people who are, in her words, “severely addicted to drugs.”

increased risk of overdose

The Pivot Law Society, Eby’s former employer and human rights group, responded with a statement condemning the conduct. Endorsed by 16 other community organizations.

Evidence indicates that compulsory treatment leads to increased mortality risk and deprives survivors of autonomy, but positive benefits have not been established. The discretionary power to forcibly institutionalize people also causes harm and undermines system-level trust in health services.

From Mexico to Sweden to Vancouver to the United Kingdom, involuntary treatment has been found to increase the risk of overdose, with no significant effect on substance use patterns.

Studies of involuntary treatment for psychiatric reasons have also shown negative results. Compulsory institutionalization is not only highly traumatic, but is associated with longer hospital stays, increased readmission rates, and increased likelihood of dying by suicide upon discharge.

Protesters are holding orange signs with white letters that read,
Advocates attend a rally in Calgary after a lawsuit was filed against the Alberta government in August 2021, alleging that rules governing supervised drug use sites were a matter of life and death.
Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh

lower tolerance

Discharge following involuntary drug treatment has long been associated with the risk of overdose, even before drug supplies became as toxic and unpredictable as they are today.

Data from the United States show that from 2010 to 2017, all forms of drug use treatment in hospitalized patients, even those involving prescribed alternatives, increased the risk of overdose at hospital discharge.

The link between compulsory treatment and overdose has been found in studies of both the criminal justice system and the public health agency, existing pathways to involuntary institutions in BC.

These overdoses tend to transition from non-fatal to fatal primarily due to the toxicity of the feed. People are thrown into the same living environment with reduced tolerance.

A bearded man in blue rubber gloves is testing a drug sample with an infrared device.
A Get Your Drugs Tested employee uses an infrared spectrometer to test a drug sample in Vancouver in 2022. An animal tranquilizer called xylazine has been adulterated in drug supplies and has been linked to increased deaths in Ontario.
Canadian Press/Jimmy Chong

Colonial violence by settlers continues

In British Columbia, young people are not involuntarily institutionalized solely for drug use. However, according to reports, the incident appears to have been caused by abuse of state mental health laws.

The B.C. NDP proposed involuntary institutionalization of youth who experienced an overdose in 2020, but input from advocates, drug policy experts, and academics with real-world experience of forced detention After intense scrutiny, the proposal was withdrawn.

However, involuntary psychiatric detention of adolescents is at a record high in the state.

More than 2,500 children, some as young as 10, were involuntarily hospitalized in 2018, according to the BC Children and Youth Representative. This is a 162 percent increase since 2008.

Like most of Canada’s punitive and genocidal policies, the province’s mental health laws are unfairly applied to British Columbia’s indigenous peoples, including children, and are the foundation of Canada’s founding indigenous peoples. There is an alarming continuation of violence against children of the tribe.

The BC Department of Health acknowledges the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in involuntary detention in the province, but states are not obligated to record the ethnicity of their patients. He said he did not know the extent of the damage.

A dark-haired man puts a small shoe on the table with other shoes.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lays down children’s shoes during the National Truth and Reconciliation Day ceremony in Ottawa on September 30, 2022.
Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick

dependent on involuntary treatment

Involuntary psychiatric hospital admissions for people aged 14 and over under the BC Mental Health Act also increased from 14,195 to 23,531 in the state from 2008 to 2018.

Mandatory interventions are often used in part because of the worst voluntary mental health services situation in British Columbia, characterized by long waiting times, high access fees, inadequate capacity and lack of culturally appropriate services. . This creates a barrier for people seeking timely support.

Relying on a system designed to criminalize drug use while temporarily stabilizing people through involuntary mental health treatment risks causing further harm, trauma and death.

Forced institutionalization has already become a weapon against drug users. 18.8 percent of those arrested in British Columbia had a primary diagnosis of substance use disorder. Similarly, from 2013 to 2018, his 10 percent of involuntarily hospitalized youth were identified as having the disorder.



Read more: As an Indigenous physician, I see the legacy of boarding schools and the ongoing racism in healthcare today.


moral panic

The spread of compulsory treatment in countries such as Canada stems from the same moral panic that once drove drug prohibitions imposed through colonial powers.

Instead of locking people up against their will, the government intervenes in the supply of poisoned drugs and seeks other means, such as drug user groups and frontline worker-sponsored sympathy clubs for drug users. We should look to more humane methods.

States must work with local governments and health boards to expand life-saving, life-affirming and safe access, and solutions to the housing crisis need to be an urgent priority for all levels of government. .



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