Meth addicts set for enforced treatment
Desperate families could apply to a court to force meth-addicted loved ones into rehabilitation under radical drug laws the Barnett Government wants to import from New Zealand.
Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis, who scrutinised the laws during a visit to Wellington last month and briefed Cabinet, said “do-gooders and civil libertarians might not like the approach, but we have got to do something to help these families”.
Under New Zealand’s Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act, a family member, police officer or “reputable person” can apply with statutory declarations to a District Court to force an addict into treatment.
It is then up to the alleged addict to show cause why they should not go to rehab and the court can issue warrants for non-compliance.
Addicts can also “self-refer” during a moment of clarity and are bound under the Act to continue treatment.
Mr Francis said he had been begged by families — some with high profiles — to send a relative to prison to prevent them harming themselves or others while in the grips of ice addiction.
“In Australia, we tend to wait until someone has gone down the slippery slope so far that 95 per cent of meth addicts end up in jail,” he said. “Should we not try to do something beforehand?”
Currently, West Australians can be detained involuntarily under the Mental Health Act while in a drug-induced psychosis, which usually lasts about three days, but cannot be legally held when they recover from that state.
Some families have fought in the State Administrative Tribunal for guardianship to compel a loved one to get treatment.
Mental Health Minister Andrea Mitchell has been looking at the issue with the Mental Health Commission. Mr Francis admitted an involuntary program would require scores more rehabilitation places, as yet unfunded, and possibly provided through the not-for-profit sector.
But he said it would reap savings in the long run by cutting WA’s prison muster growth, which was 9 per cent during the first half of the year in a spike he suspected meth was fuelling.
The National Drug Research Institute has previously criticised forced rehab, arguing it is better to treat addicts when they ask for help, so funding should be boosted to voluntary treatment to reduce waiting times.
Mr Francis said a WA model would also take time to develop, realistically putting it in the next parliamentary term. Shadow corrective services minister Paul Papalia said he would not comment on a proposal he had not seen but “I am not convinced that mandatory rehab against the will of an individual is going to be the best response”.