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Review of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966

feb 2008 review alcoholism drug addiction act

Last year, the Wellington coroner recommended the number of certified institutions for people with alcoholism and drug addiction be increased, and for the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966 be updated “without delay”, to take into account social needs and the Bill of Rights Act 1990. The Ministry of Health outlines the proposed review of the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act.

The coroner’s comments followed the death of a Lower Hutt woman, whose family had wanted her committed to an institution for compulsory treatment but found the process too difficult. The coroner said there were insufficient institutions in this country for the placement of persons requiring treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction. New Zealand has only four institutions – in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch – that provide compulsory treatment.

The stated purpose of the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966 is “to make better provision for the care and treatment of alcoholics and drug addicts”. One of the Act’s functions is to provide for the compulsory detention and treatment in certified institutions of people who are persistently and severely affected by alcohol and/or drugs.

However, the 42-year-old Act is considered to be outdated and no longer meets its stated purpose. In particular, the Act has not kept pace with modern human rights concepts, nor with changes in the health sector and other health legislation.

Last year, the Minister of Health agreed to a comprehensive review of the Act, with a view to repealing and replacing it with new legislation. The Ministry of Health has convened internal and external advisory groups to provide support and advice throughout the review, and will soon be seeking your input by inviting comments on a discussion document, which will particularly examine how community based alcohol and drug treatment models work in other jurisdictions, and through regional forums.

Some of the key issues already identified by the review include:

  • Inconsistency with human rights law. Currently, the Act contains extensive powers to deprive people of their liberty without legal protections or a formal process of appeal such as those that exist under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992.
  • A lack of conclusive evidence as to whether long-term alcohol and drug treatments provide outcomes that are robust enough to justify compulsion. This introduces an ethical dilemma as to the right of society to compel treatment that may or may not benefit the addict.
  • A lack of ‘certified institutions’. Only two non-governmental organisations are currently functioning as certified institutions under the Act. These are the Salvation Army Bridge Programmes in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and Nova Trust Lodge in Christchurch.
  • Some institutions are unable or unwilling to accept certain clients, or are unable to match client need to the right treatment facility. These include violent patients who need greater security than the institutions can offer.
  • There are no formal assessment processes, as there are with the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992.

Despite these issues, there is a generally held view that repeal and non-replacement of the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act would leave a small number of people, chronically dependent on alcohol and/or drugs, in a situation of serious danger to themselves or others. It would also result in there being no lawful means of intervening to enforce detoxification or treatment.

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