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Involuntary treatment of drug and alcohol dependence in New South Wales: an old Act and a new direction

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Will new legislation address the dilemmas raised by a century-old Act for involuntary treatment of addiction?

In September 2012, the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Act 2007 was adopted in New South Wales, to better manage people requiring involuntary treatment for substance dependence. The new Act formally replaced the outdated, century-old Inebriates Act 1912 (NSW). Here, we explain why the new legislation was needed and what advances in management it will enable.

The past 100 years

Involuntary treatment for alcohol dependence (see definitions in Box 1) was established in the 19th century in Australia, when state legislation “embodied the concept of alcoholism as a disease to be treated rather than a crime to be punished”.5 Confinement and rehabilitation (mental, physical and moral) were seen as necessary to cure alcoholism and drug addiction.6 This view led to the passage of the first Inebriates Act in NSW in 1900, which was amended in 1909 and consolidated in 1912.5,7