COMMITING A PERSON TO REHAB AGAINST THEIR WISHES
Article by Fawzia Khan, Durban Attorney
The scourge of substance and alcohol abuse continues its rampant rise in SA. Shockingly, children as young as 9 years of age are becoming hooked on drugs. Substance and alcohol abuse cuts across age, race, social standing, gender, even religion, wrecking havoc not only in the lives of the addict and their loved ones, but on society as a whole, threatening our economy and our human resources.
I have seen many marriages of professional people fail because one or even both of them have fallen prey to a drug or alcohol addiction. Often the addict is in denial and refuses to get help. What can be done to prevent a loved one’s downward spiral into the abyss? Can a person be compelled to go to rehab if he or she is an addict?
The short answer is yes. The Prevention Of and Treatment Of Substance Abuse Act 2008 is the Act which sets out how and under what circumstances a person can be forced to attend a rehab treatment centre. The Act recognizes the harm associated with substance abuse and looks at how rehabilitation institutions can assist a drug user and allow for his or her eventual reintegration into society. With regard to children, (under 18 years) the Act says that: If a child displays behaviour which cannot be controlled by the parent or caregiver, or lives or works on the streets or begs for a living, or is addicted to a dependence-producing substance and is without any support to obtain treatment for such dependency, that child is said to be in need of care and protection. A social worker will be required to place the child in a temporary shelter. If the addict is a child then their best interests, as enshrined in Section 28 of our Constitution, remain paramount.
If the addict is an adult, a social worker will need to make a sworn statement saying that the person concerned is dependent on substances and is a danger to him or herself or to the immediate environment or causes a major public health risk. Or in any other manner does harm to his or her own welfare or the welfare of his or her family and others. Or that the addict has committed a criminal act to sustain his or her dependence on substances. The social worker’s report will need to be taken to the public prosecutor.
A summons will then be issued against the addict who will be required to appear at an enquiry before the magistrate. The addict is allowed legal representation and can explain to the magistrate why he or she should not be committed to a treatment centre. The magistrate may call for a medical report and ask for witnesses to give evidence. Before referring an addict to a treatment centre, the magistrate must order that the person go for detoxification at an establishment authorized in terms of the National Health Act.
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