New Brunswick pursues legislation for involuntary drug treatment

Oct 24, 2023

Earlier in September, the New Brunswick government announced it is pursuing new legislation to address drug addiction that could result in individuals being forced into treatment against their will.

Specifically, the proposed legislation aims to give police officers the authority to order individuals to undergo drug rehabilitation in the “most extreme cases,” where it is deemed that they present a danger to themselves or others.

“The objective always is to get people the help that they want but some people are so deep into their addictions that they simply can’t make that decision,” said Public Safety Minister Kris Austin in his interview with CBC News. [It is] to save their lives and make the community safer at the same time,” he added. Furthermore, Austin stated that the proposal is only one of the objectives his department is pursuing as part of a larger aim of reducing crime in New Brunswick.

Moreover, Austin also said that decisions regarding forcing an individual to undergo treatment would likely involve the courts, family members, and social workers. “There has to be checks and balances, there has to be, you know, a high threshold that shows that this person, you know, their life is in danger and they are a safety risk to those around them.”

However, Austin’s proposal has been subject to criticism from addiction experts and harm reduction advocates, who argue that providing access to basic necessities such as affordable housing and mental health care to individuals suffering from addiction should be prioritised instead.

“You send someone to detox only to discharge them into homelessness. They go to the hospital for heart valve replacements resulting from substance use, only to be gone into homelessness again,” said Debby Warren, executive director of Ensemble Moncton, an organization offering harm-reduction services for those facing substance abuse issues.

Furthermore, Warren added that if the government wants to address drug addiction effectively, it needs to create more housing first. She expressed concerns that by forcing individuals into treatment, the trauma that originally led them to addiction will only get worse. “The ones with addictions disorder have already been hugely traumatized … so you’re just adding to the trauma and the rabbit hole just gets deeper,” she said.

According to Dr. Sara Davidson, the medical director of the River Stone Recovery Centre, forcing people to get treatment when they are not ready for it may alienate them from the people and services aimed to help them. She also added that people who involuntarily undergo treatment often get released into the same environment that drove them to addiction in the first place.

Similar legislation has already been proposed in Alberta by Premier Danielle Smith, referred to as “compassionate intervention” legislation that would permit family members or health-care workers to apply to a judge to order an individual to undergo addiction treatment. Alberta Mental Health and Addictions Minister Daniel Williams suggested it will take up to two years to pass this legislation and create relevant regulations.