BC NDP frontrunner David Eby proposes involuntary treatment for multiple overdose patients

The BC NDP's frontrunner David Eby has proposed involuntary treatment for multiple overdose patients. As @KierJunos reports, substance use experts and harm reduction workers say Eby's suggestion would do more harm than good.

The frontrunner to be the next BC NDP leader David Eby says people who have multiple overdoses should be put in treatment, even if they have to be forced to do it.

Eby made the comments on the campaign trail to Postmedia — and experts and harm reduction workers say his suggestion would only do harm.

“The evidence around compulsory treatment is pretty clear, especially short-term treatment, that it’s largely ineffective and might actually do more harm than good, both by forcing somebody into into detoxification and loss of tolerance and potentially increasing the risk of overdose upon leaving treatment,” said Dr. Paxton Bach, co-medical director, BC Centre on Substance Use. “But also just in the damage that it does with somebody in a relationship with the health care system as a whole.”

“We continue to go back to the stick, instead of focusing on building a system of care,” he added.

Kali Sedgemore with the Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War says the suggestion of mandatory treatment ignores the spectrum of reasons people use drugs.

“Not everyone that uses drugs has a substance use disorder. Some people that use drugs are just using drugs because they like drugs. Other people do have a substance use disorder, but they don’t need to be treated with involuntary treatment. And not everyone needs to be treated the same way,” said Sedgemore.

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In 2020, the B.C. government looked at amending the mental health act to allow for the involuntary hospitalization of young people after an overdose.

“How I describe it is they would lock them up pretty much in the children’s hospital for seven days and don’t need to contact their parents or anything,” said Sedgemore.

The government put that bill on ice.

“If you want to suggest compulsory treatment … it requires a good, strong evidence to suggest that this would be an effective way of actually treating a substance use disorder in reducing overdose risk and would also require an acknowledgment that we’ve tried everything else in our power already without success,” said Bach.

Sedgemore says a big reason overdoses happen is the unsafe quality of the drugs.

“On a personal level, for people that overdose over and over again, it’s just providing them with that care of just an OPS site or something,” said Sedgemore. “Yes, people are going to overdose multiple times, but it’s just because our drugs are toxic right now – and the drugs will be toxic until the government steps up and give them a safe supply.”

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