ID: HR23-735
Presenting author: Zoë Dodd

Presenting author biography:

Zoë Dodd is a long-time harm reduction worker, drug user advocate, organizer, and scholar from Toronto. She is a vocal critic of government and has been fighting for drug user rights for two decades. She is widely known for her role in helping to address Canada’s toxic drug death crisis.

The Patient- Prisoner – The Experiences of People Who Use Drugs with Mandated Drug Treatment

Zoë Dodd
As we get closer to decriminalization here in Canada, mandated drug treatment is frequently cited as a potential way to address the health and social consequences that can stem from illicit drug use. Provinces in Canada are expanding the treatment system as a response to the toxic drug death crisis, without evidence that these programs “work”. In some jurisdictions police have been given expanded powers to force people in to treatment. There is a major lack of evidence available regarding the experiences of people who have been mandated to participate in existing treatment programs. This qualitative study, asked individuals who were mandated into treatment to reflect on their experiences with the treatment programs they were mandated to.
Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with 11 low-income people who had been mandated by the courts, their employer, and Child Protective Services to participate in drug treatment programs. A grounded theory approach was used to code the stories. Participants were then invited to participate in a feedback circle as an opportunity to “member check” the validity of the findings. A Political Activist as Ethnographer (PAE) approach was used to interrogate the system and to develop recommendations for system transformation.

This study revealed problems with the current drug treatment system and the use of drug treatment as a punishment or mandated consequence by state institutions. Based on interviews with participants, mandated drug treatment was ineffective in producing the outcomes desired by participants as well as reaching the programs' stated goal of abstinence. The study additionally reveals that drug treatment acts as a white, Christian, colonial power apparatus that does not meet the needs of many (particularly Indigenous) people. This study adds to the growing evidence that mandated drug treatment can cause further harm and should be dismantled, not expanded.