Alberta government clarifies Compassionate Intervention Act after criticism

The United Conservative government is about to set the record straight when it comes to compassionate intervention.

This comes after criticism from addicts and health experts after the state was reportedly considering the policy.

If this law is enacted and passed, police, family members, or legal guardians of drug users will be required to refer adults and young people to involuntary treatment if they endanger themselves or others. You will be able to.

Marshall Smith, the prime minister’s chief of staff, said in most cases that would not happen.

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In an exclusive interview with Global News, Smith explained that interventions are compulsory, but no treatment except in specific cases.

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“This is a completely voluntary process and individuals can decline the assistance being offered,” he said.

“We are looking at administrative processes, non-criminal ways to intervene and provide compassionate health care responses.”

The system the UCP government models its treatment plans for is borrowed from Portugal, which 20 years ago became the first country in the world to adopt a public health approach, abolishing criminal penalties for all drug consumption and possession. is.

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Portugal decriminalized all drug possession in 2001. This could lead to anyone with no evidence of trafficking and possessing small amounts to be fined or sent to a treatment program rather than jail.

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Smith said that in Alberta, police officers could approach a person who has committed a minor crime and issue a court summons-like ticket demanding that they appear before an “intervention committee.” I was.

“When they are evaluated by a psychologist, they go before three commissioners, and if they are indigenous, they go before three elder commissioners. “I’m actually there,” Smith said.

Smith said the commission acts like a point of access to several services, including addiction treatment.

“What are their housing needs, ‘Would you like to go to therapy today? We want to provide a connection to opioid alternatives,” he said.

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Smith believes this is a better alternative than police officers arresting individuals in this hypothesis and putting them through the criminal system.

“That’s the beginning of the process. Now that individual may return to the board many times as the system tries to provide support and care and keep them engaged.”

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He says that at this point, treatment is completely voluntary and there are no penalties for leaving the board without enrolling in drug treatment.

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Before introducing the new model in 2001, Portugal was facing an addiction epidemic and considering interventions. In the years that followed, drug-related overdoses declined dramatically.

In addition to decriminalization, Portugal has also shifted responsibility for its drug policy from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Health.

In 2019, the Canadian government considered the idea of ​​implementing the Portuguese model here, but the Federal Conservative Party said it was unrealistic based on the lack of a support system.

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“I know that the Portuguese model is quite effective. It may not be the full true form, but it is a form of decriminalization and the death of drug overdose (drug addiction). It has been effective in reducing the rate by 80%. Portugal,” explained Monty Gauche.

He is an assistant professor at the University of Alberta and an addiction physician who treats people with substance use disorders.

“It has also caused HIV infection rates to decline. It has benefited many in the community, providing individuals with access to treatment programs, social services and overall wellness programs.

“Thus, depending on how it is deployed and mandated, this kind of program can be potentially beneficial and helpful.”

Ghosh calls it a step in the right direction, but warns that checks and balances are needed when it comes to intervention committees that the Alberta government may introduce.

As for forced treatment, if someone is overdosing multiple times a day, is violent, or poses a danger to themselves or others, the case may be escalated and the judge will may order treatment similar to that for mental health conditions, Smith said.Activities.

Marshall Smith, chief of staff to Alberta Prime Minister Daniel Smith, in an interview on April 21, 2023.

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According to Ghosh, most people in the survey fall into two camps. One is the argument that when both mandatory and voluntary treatment yield the same results, everyone should be forced to treat; It is an argument against taking away the autonomy to make health decisions. .

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“Compulsory treatment is a new treatment for Canada. As far as I know, this has not yet been done for substance use disorders and we are aware of the literature. , in a sort of first-world model — with no more benefits than voluntary treatment,” Ghosh added.

Data from Mexico show that forcing people to undergo abstinence-focused treatments increases the risk of relapse and overdose death, Ghosh said.

No final decision has been made on the UCP’s compassionate intervention law, and Smith, who has been open about past addiction struggles, said there are several other options the government is also considering.

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If passed, the policy would be the first of its kind in Canada and part of the United Conservative government’s model of recovery and treatment, which focuses on abstinence from resources such as monitored consumption sites (SCS). is.

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Compassionate interventions are also possible as the state’s deaths from toxic drugs continue to surpass pre-pandemic highs.

In 2022, 1,498 people died from toxic drugs, according to the Alberta Health Service’s substance use monitoring system.

This is lower than in 2021 (1,626 deaths), but still higher than pre-pandemic levels. About 626 toxic drug deaths were recorded in 2019.

New legislation could be introduced after the May 29 election, when the Alberta legislature reopens.

— Using files from Paula Tran of Global News

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