Forced Addiction Treatment Violates Human Rights

By Zachary Siegel 02/11/16

Forced treatment is also less effective than voluntary treatments for drug dependence.

Forced Addiction Treatment Violates Human Rights
Photo via Shutterstock

Just in time for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS), new research by the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) found that compulsory addiction treatment does not reduce post-treatment drug use, arrests or incarceration. 

“This study is consistent with growing calls from experts to replace the use of compulsory treatment with voluntary, evidence-based, and human rights compliant health and social services to address drug dependence,” according to a recent press release. 

Compulsory addiction treatment refers to the mandatory enrollment of people (who are not necessarily drug-dependent) into drug treatment programs, typically forced inpatient treatment. This differs from coerced treatment, in which individuals are given an ultimatum, usually treatment to avoid jail time, as seen in drug courts

The study’s principal investigator from ICSDP, Dr. Dan Werb, said, “The new research raises serious questions about the increasing reliance on compulsory approaches to drug dependence, particularly in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Australia. The evidence clearly indicates that forcibly enrolling individuals does not result in sustained, positive outcomes.”

The researchers exhaustively reviewed current scientific literature in order to assess the efficacy of compulsory addiction treatment. The two main findings were 1) Compulsory addiction treatment is less effective than non-compulsory methods at promoting long-term abstention from drug use or reducing criminal recidivism and 2) Compulsory addiction treatment has negative impacts on post-treatment drug use, as well as on arrests or incarcerations, compared to non-compulsory, or voluntary methods.

According to the investigators, there is also evidence of human rights violations in compulsory addiction treatment programs, including torture and other forms of punishment for drug dependent individuals. 

“The routine use of physical violence, sexual abuse, and forced labor in compulsory treatment centers seriously undermines the human rights of detainees,” said Mr. Rick Lines, executive director of Harm Reduction International. 

The researchers recommend that evidence-based methods—including medication-assisted treatment and heroin-assisted treatment—should be implemented as they have been found to reduce post-treatment drug use and recidivism. The more humane, public health-oriented paradigm will be front and center at this year's UNGASS, which last met in 1998

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.