SafeLink Alberta Responds to Involuntary Treatments

Alisha Ostbergharm reduction, human rights, News, treatment, Uncategorized

Calgary, Alberta, April 19, 2023 – With legislation being considered that would place individuals who use substances into treatment without consent, SafeLink Alberta advocates for a human-rights based approach that would support individuals as people first, with the right to autonomy, health care, and support.

“We believe that substance use should be approached from a public health and human rights lens,” says Katie Ayres, Executive Director, SafeLink Alberta. “We know that existing punitive drug laws are causing extreme harms within the community and further punishments will only worsen the situation.” Research has shown that involuntary treatment is not an effective strategy in helping individuals navigate recovery. Though it may mean the individual temporarily stops their use of a substance, it does nothing to address the underlying issues that contributed to their use in the first place. The chances of relapse are high when the treatment ends, and critical components such as housing, community inclusion, and basic needs beyond the treatment period are not addressed.

“Using a harm reduction model of care, we can build bridges, build trust, and encourage individuals to seek support, but this is not an either or,” says Ayres. “Treatment is an important component in the system of care, but removing a person’s right to autonomy, choice, and respect through coercion is not compassion.”

The newly proposed “Compassionate Intervention Act” would mean that individuals with substance use disorder would lose their rights to make decisions about their own healthcare. In addition to feeding stigma and stereotypes, which reduce the likelihood that individuals will seek support in the future, involuntary treatment can be traumatizing and cause harm, particularly to individuals who have experienced past trauma or institutionalization. Statistical data also shows that it is much more likely involuntary treatment will be imposed upon marginalized community members, such as racialized groups, low-income groups, and those with mental health conditions.

Further to not recommending involuntary treatment, SafeLink Alberta supports the decriminalization of substances in Canada and the inclusion of a national provision of low-barrier access to safe drug supply. Our support extends beyond decriminalization to also include expungement of previous convictions related to personal drug possession; equitable access to harm reduction services including recovery and treatment services, supervision consumption sites, and harm reduction supplies; prevention programs focused on addressing inequities and social determinants of health; anti-stigma and public awareness campaigns to support the shift in social attitudes towards people who use substances; and a National Strategy to address problematic substance use throughout Canada, designed through meaningful consultation and engagement of people with lived and living experience.

“We need support, not punishment,” says Ayres. “Supporting individuals where they are, providing a safer drug supply to decrease drug poisonings, resourcing prevention programs focused on addressing inequities, breaking down stigma, and building public awareness – all of these things save lives. We have better solutions, and we have evidence that these solutions work.”

Individuals who use substances or those seeking more information can contact SafeLink Alberta’s at, visit or come to one of our drop-in centres in Calgary or Medicine Hat between 1 and 4 p.m.

About SafeLink Alberta

SafeLink Alberta is a non-profit organization that has been serving and advocating for priority populations in Calgary and southern Alberta since 1983. Our mission is to reduce the risks associated with sexual activity and substance use through education, non-judgmental services, and harm reduction programming.

We believe that everyone deserves access to healthcare services, regardless of their background or lifestyle. That’s why we prioritize serving marginalized communities and those who are most at risk for HIV, hepatitis C, and other sexually transmitted and bloodborne infections.

Our services include HIV and hepatitis C testing, counselling, support groups, and referrals to other healthcare providers. We also offer harm reduction supplies and education on safer sex practices, drug use, and overdose prevention.

Our team is made up of passionate and dedicated individuals who are committed to making a positive impact in our community. We work closely with other organizations and community partners to ensure that our services are accessible and effective.

Media Contact Information:
Cid Hanna, Director, Community Relations
SafeLink Alberta
Direct: (403) 508-2581