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Forced addiction treatment an option considered by Alberta

Forced abstinence increases overdose risk, says harm reduction advocate

If Alberta allows adults with addictions to be forced into treatment it would increase their risk of death and actually increase crime, says the executive director of an Alberta-based harm reduction organization.

A recent media report has revealed that the provincial government is considering the idea, and Euan Thomson, with Each + Every: Businesses for Harm Reduction, called it dangerous. But exposing the government’s potential plans is good because now they have to respond to questions and makes people think.

“It allows the public to make their own decision about whether it’s right, whether it’s ethical and whether it’s effective,” Thomson said.

“Evidence shows very clearly they’re at higher risk of overdose following forced abstinence. They’re also at higher risk of returning to crime. The recidivism rate is extremely high. We’re going to deepen these crime cycles if we go down this road,” Thomson said.


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Mental Health and Addiction Minister Nicholas Milliken says that while no decisions have been, he has been mandated to look at compassionate ways to intervene when individuals are a harm to themselves or others.

“As such, my ministry is looking at all potential options on the table,” said Milliken during a press conference on Wednesday.

“We have situations where people are overdosing sometimes five-plus times a day. Those individuals are obviously a harm to themselves. They’re often a harm to the community as well.”

He said his government has pursued recovery-orientated system of care since 2019 and has also increased funding to harm reduction supports.

“That means we’re meeting people where they are in their issues in regards to addiction,” Milliken said.


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Thomson said people are at their highest risk of death coming out of jail and coming out of treatment when they relapse.

“People are unique and diverse so we need to have different options. But right now we’re really only providing one, this residential-treatment-following-detox approach. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for many people and it’s fatal as a result.”

He said instead, more should be done to provide housing and address basic needs. Issues that people with addictions deal with are not rooted in substance use alone.

“We’re putting the cart before the horse here. We’ve got to address the basic needs first and worry about the substance use later.”

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Susan Zielinski

About the Author: Susan Zielinski

Susan has been with the Red Deer Advocate since 2001. Her reporting has focused on education, social and health issues.
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