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The Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Act: evidence, ethics and the law

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High rates of alcohol-related harms have long troubled the Northern Territory, with per capita alcohol consumption levels about 50% higher than the Australian average, and alcohol-attributable deaths occurring at 3.5 times the national rate.1 The Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Act 2013 (NT) (AMT Act) is the latest measure introduced to combat this issue, permitting “civil commitment” of individuals for residential alcohol rehabilitation for up to 3 months. Civil commitment for alcohol and other drug (AOD) dependence is the “legally sanctioned, involuntary commitment of a non-offender into treatment”.2

We contend that there is little evidence of the scheme’s efficacy, and that the NT Government could adopt more cost-effective alternatives that would not involve the dubious application of a medical intervention to reduce public intoxication, with its concomitant legal and ethical issues.

The Police Administration Act 1981 (NT) provides that, where a person is apprehended by police three times for public intoxication over 2 months, they must be referred for assessment by a senior assessment clinician (SAC) in accordance with the AMT Act. Under the AMT Act, the SAC — who is not required to be a medical doctor — must assess the individual within 96 hours and then request a mental health…