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The Rights of Individuals Treated for Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Addiction 

The Rights of Individuals Treated for Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Addiction
The Rights of Individuals Treated for Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Addiction

Adrian Carter

and Wayne Hall

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date: 17 September 2021

Adrian Carter and Wayne Hall discuss the competing aims of addiction policies, balancing user freedoms, user obligations not to harm, and state obligations to protect others from harms. Given strong social disapproval, the overlaps with criminality and the need to protect society, treating debilitating and chronic addictions often receives a low priority. Assessing rights violations therefore depends on one’s viewpoint: is addiction a wilful, immoral act requiring full responsibility, or a mental illness requiring treatment? Against punitive and total abstinence responses, the authors advocate medical treatment (based on sufferers’ marginality and difficulty with accessing healthcare), maintenance therapies, harm minimization and treatment for other conditions (e.g. HIV), based on the risk to health and life of not doing so. They discuss rights in prisons and during pregnancy, when treating under legal coercion, when undertaking unevaluated, invasive and risky treatments, for co-morbid populations, and in decriminalizing currently illicit drugs for adult use. States largely ignore such rights, particularly within criminal populations, despite clear UN and WHO guidelines. Human rights law suggests the treatment of addiction should be recognized as a health issue, not simply a criminal justice one, and should not remove rights (e.g. liberty) without due legal process.

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