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New law updates compulsory alcohol and drug treatment

20 February 2017

Parliament has given a third reading to the Substance Addiction (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Bill, which will repeal the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966.

Apart from a few provisions relating to appointments and regulation-making powers, the new law will come into force one year from the date on which it receives the Royal assent.

The 1966 Act is considered to be outdated and inconsistent with modern approaches to compulsory treatment based on human rights.

The new legislation provides for the compulsory assessment and treatment of individuals with severe substance addiction who lack the capacity to make decisions about their treatment.

The purpose, as stated in section 3, is to enable people to receive compulsory treatment if they have a severe substance addiction and their capacity to make decisions about treatment for that addiction is severely impaired, so that the compulsory treatment may

  • protect them from harm; and
  • facilitate a comprehensive assessment of their addiction; and
  • stabilise their health through the application of medical treatment (including medically managed withdrawal); and protect and enhance their mana and dignity and restore their capacity to make informed decisions about further treatment and substance use; and
  • facilitate planning for their treatment and care to be continued on a voluntary basis; and
  • give them an opportunity to engage in voluntary treatment.

The legislation originated in Law Commission research undertaken in 2010 which reviewed the 1966 Act and proposed its replacement with more user-friendly law which included greater safeguards for people undergoing compulsory treatment.

The Act defines the objective of compulsory treatment in section 35 as being to facilitate the stabilisation of the patient through medical treatment and if possible to restore the patient's capacity to make informed decisions about their treatment and to be given an opportunity to engage in voluntary treatment.

Strict criteria for compulsory treatment are set (sections 7 to 10) along with indicators for when compulsory status begins and ends (section 11).

Subpart 5 of the new Act sets out the rights of patients. Under section 49, all patients have the right to nominate any person aged over 18 to protect their interests under the Act. This may be revoked or varied at any time.

Section 57 entitles a patient to ask for advice from a lawyer about their status and rights as a patient or any other legal issue. A lawyer who agrees to act for a patient must be given access when they request to see the patient, and must also provide the legal advice as soon as practicable.

Section 119A, which was inserted during the bill's passage through Parliament, requires the Ministry of Health to review the operation and effectiveness of the Act within six months from the third anniversary of the date on which it comes into force.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019