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Does Forced Addictions Treatment Work?

Updated: Feb 8


In the gritty intersection of coercive addictions treatment and the hushed realm of prisoner advocacy, a complex narrative unfolds—one that transcends the conventional boundaries of justice and rehabilitation. Picture this: a clandestine battle where the echoes of mandated sobriety clash with the fervent cries for prisoner rights. Welcome to a domain where the conventional scripts of addiction recovery intertwine with the harsh realities of incarceration. 


Coerced sobriety, a phrase laden with conflicting implications, thrusts individuals into a paradoxical dance between wellness and constraint. Here, the nuances of agency blur as external forces collide with the aspirations of voluntary recovery. 

So what is coerced addictions treatment? An article Published by the National Library of Medicine in 2020 states: 

“The escalation of the opioid crisis has facilitated a renewed urgency to leverage addiction treatment to mitigate harms of illicit substance use. Coerced addiction treatment remains one such prevalent approach, involving the exertion of legal, formal, and informal perceived pressure to force people who use drugs (PWUD) into treatment and disrupt substance use. There is significant heterogeneity in coerced treatment types ranging from indefinite, abstinence-imposed detention to informal, perceived pressure to enter treatment from physicians, family and friends. Research on the effectiveness of formal coerced addiction treatment has produced mixed results.” 

It seems that definition only inspires more questions than answers though. So where is the divide? 

In epochs past, coerced sobriety often found its expression in moralistic endeavors, where societal norms sought to mold behavior through restrictive measures. From the infamous "inebriate asylums" of the 19th century to the Prohibition era, attempts to curb addiction were marked by a blend of benevolence and authoritarianism. 

The mid-20th century witnessed a paradigm shift with the medicalization of addiction. What was once perceived as a moral failing transitioned into a clinical matter. Yet, the specter of forced interventions persisted, manifesting within the walls of institutions where rehabilitation often mirrored punitive measures. 

As the pendulum swung towards recognizing addiction as a medical condition, the tension between therapeutic intervention and personal agency persisted. The evolution of voluntary recovery programs coexisted with instances of mandatory rehabilitation, creating a complex tapestry where the past and present collide.  


Talking about coercive mandates also begs a conversation about stigma. The conundrum lies in the interplay of societal stigma and the strategies employed in addictions treatment. It becomes a vicious cycle where judgment begets force, and force perpetuates judgment. The result? A landscape where individuals grappling with addiction find themselves not just combating personal demons but also societal preconceptions.  

As we delve into the data, the complexities surface. Success, it seems, is not a one-size-fits-all metric. The journey from compulsion to recovery, an intricate dance where personal agency contends with external pressures, leaves an indelible mark on the statistical landscape. 

The numbers become storytellers, weaving narratives of triumphs and setbacks within the framework of voluntary recovery. Yet, within this analysis, a paradox surfaces. Success rates, often touted as indicators of effective treatment, carry a weighty asterisk—the distinction between surface compliance and genuine transformation. 

Recidivism, on the other hand, echoes the persistent challenges faced by those navigating the aftermath of forced interventions. It questions not just the effectiveness of the intervention itself but also the sustainability of coerced sobriety in fostering enduring change. 

Recent articles in Saskatchewan highlight the diversity of opinions around this topic. One of which Articles was from the Star Pheonix featured Saskatoon Police Chief Troy Cooper where he was quoted from his appearance on Hard Knox Talks: Your Addiction Podcast saying

You can force them to be present, but you know you have to have someone willing to participate in order for it to be effective.”

Another article from CBC News featuring now retired police Chief Evan Bray, in favour of coercive strategies quoted him saying,

A person is essentially not arrested for a criminal offence but taken to a centre where they're going to receive the health and help that they require. But they're not leaving,"


After navigating this complex landscape between intervention and autonomy, it is important to consider the voices of people who have walked the path to recovery through the carceral policies we currently have in place. One of which is Chantel Huel, a retired Saskatchewan gangster and ex-convict turned prisoner advocate and creator of the Trap House Testimonies Facebook Page who found recovery during her incarceration at Pine Grove Correctional Center in Prince Albert Saskatchewan. See attached video where Chantel states that she would be dead if not for her incarceration but also warns caution when considering coercion at the hands of those without the understanding of the complexities of trauma and addiction.

In concluding this journey through the intersection of intervention and autonomy, the tapestry remains intricate and multifaceted. It calls for a continued dialogue, one that acknowledges the diversity of experiences and perspectives in the ongoing battle to demystify pathways to wellness for people lost in the grips of addiction and we will continue to deepen our committment to elevation conversations like these as we move towards a better understanding right here on Hard Knox Talks: Your Addiction Podcast.

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