The Alberta government says no decisions have been made on potential legislation that would force people with a drug addiction into treatment against their will.
“My ministry is looking at all potential options on the table,” said Nicholas Milliken, minister of mental health and addictions Wednesday. “I will however say that there have been no specific decisions made with regards to this.”
Colin Aitchison, Milliken’s press secretary, said in an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon that “department officials within Alberta Mental Health and Addiction explored a variety of options, including the potential development of a Compassionate Intervention Act.”
Earlier this week, the Globe and Mail revealed the provincial officials were discussing the Compassionate Intervention Act last fall after Danielle Smith became premier after winning the leadership of the governing United Conservative Party.
The newspaper obtained hundreds of pages of government documents through a freedom of information request.
The emails and reports from Oct. 6 to Dec. 15 of last year show the officials in Milliken’s ministry were looking at how and under what circumstances a drug addict could be forced into treatment.
Applications would be decided by an administrative panel, the newspaper reported.
Some experts in addictions treatment say the approach isn’t effective and can actually increase the chance of a fatal relapse.
Elaine Hyshka, associate professor at the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health, said studies of jurisdictions that have tried forced addiction treatment show people have high rates of relapse.
She said there is a danger of people taking a lethal dose of drugs as they relapse because their tolerance drops while in treatment.
Hyshka is also concerned that the prospect of involuntary treatment will push people underground and not to disclose their substance use to loved ones.
“I’m just really worried that the impact of that would … really set us back many years in terms of how we’ve been trying to encourage people to be open about their use and to reduce stigma so that people do seek the care they need, ” she said.
The governing United Conservative Party is seeking a second mandate in the May 29 provincial election. The UCP has not revised to a query about whether involuntary treatment legislation will be part of its campaign platform.