Proposed law allows forced detention and detox of Australian drug addicts and alcoholics

Proposed state laws in Victoria, Australia will allow authorities to forcibly detain users of drugs and alcohol for a period of two weeks while they take part in a detox program. However human rights groups say that the new legislation could be used to keep binge drinkers and undesirable characters off the street.

Groups such as Youthlaw and the Human Rights Law Resource Centre warn that the Severe Substance Dependence Treatment Bill could be used inappropriately. The experts who support the bill say that these are measures that could save lives. However there is little evidence that involuntary attention – especially in young people – is a necessary or effective form of treatment for the addiction of alcohol or drug dependence.

In Victoria there are already long waiting lists for detox programmes and treatment for substance abuse. Human rights groups are advising the government that it would make more sense to improve access to voluntary treatment rather than take spaces away from people who do actually want treatment. Experts argue that one of the most important factors in whether treatment is successful or not is internal motivation. A report released by Youthlaw stated that “it is conceivable in this current environment under the Bill that a young person who is open to accessing voluntary treatment services is forced to receive involuntary treatment as that is the only way to access treatment. That is an unacceptable scenario.”

The proposed law states that someone can be detained if they suffer from “severe substance dependence”. However as there are know written guidelines to what is deemed as severe dependency critics argue the law maybe used by the authorities for other uses, such as to curb alcohol related crime. Also user groups Harm Reduction Victoria and the Association of Participating Service Users argued that involuntary treatment could lead to increased risk of overdose on release.

In December 2009 the Cambodian authorities have started to arbitrarily detain drug addicts in order to coerce them into taking part in trials on a little know detoxification drug called Bong Sen. Rebecca Shleifer the health and human rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch "Instead of arbitrary detention or an unknown cocktail of herbs, Cambodia should be promoting voluntary, medically appropriate treatment options for those who are dependent on drugs,"

Forcing someone into rehabilitation undermines the fundamental principals of human rights and in the case of Australia this law is a big setback. However Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association president Simon Ruth said in support of the proposed law ''It's not a human right to drink yourself to death,''.