Key messages

  • It is important that a person being detained, and their family or carer, fully understand the requirements and processes to access treatment under the Severe Substance Dependence Treatment Act 2010 (the Act). If the person or anyone else is incapable of understanding this Act and the process, assistance is available (see Further information and useful contacts below). 
  • Treatment under the Act is reserved for those who might be in danger of losing their lives or risking serious damage to their health due to alcohol or other drug use. 
  • There are strict criteria for access to treatment under the Act.
  • Only a very small number of Victorians are currently detained under the Act each year.
  • The person being detained and their carers and family have rights under the Act. 
 

The process for compulsory treatment

The Act sets out the process for accessing treatment.  
Only a very small number of Victorians are detained under the Act each year. This is because access to treatment is reserved for people who are affected by the most severe substance dependence and urgently require treatment to save their lives or prevent serious damage to their health. 

The criteria for detention states that the person has 'severe substance dependence'. This means: 

  • the person has a tolerance to a substance 
  • the person shows withdrawal symptoms when they stop using, or reduce the level of use of, the substance 
  • the person is incapable of making decisions about their substance use and personal health, welfare and safety due primarily to dependence on the substance
  • the person is unwilling to undergo voluntary treatment for dependence on the substance. 
Any person over the age of 18 can make an application to the Magistrates' Court to have a person fulfilling the above criteria placed under a detention and treatment order. The application must be accompanied by a recommendation from a prescribed registered medical practitioner for the detention and treatment of the person.

A prescribed registered medical practitioner must examine the person for whom the application has been made, to assess if they qualify to be detained and treated. A prescribed registered medical practitioner must be a fellow or affiliate of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, an Addiction Medicine Specialist or a custodial medical officer (see Information for prescribed registered medical practitioners for full definition). 

DirectLine can assist people and their families with finding a prescribed registered medication practitioner (phone 1800 888 236). Once the prescribed registered medical practitioner has provided their recommendation, the recommendation is attached to the application and submitted to the Magistrates' Court.

If a person refuses to be examined by this medical practitioner or cannot be examined, the person making the application can apply to the Magistrates' Court for a special warrant to cause the person to be subject to an involuntary examination. 

Usually, the person making the application for the order is a member of the police, an ambulance officer, an emergency department staff member, a doctor, a pharmacist or an alcohol and other drugs worker. Carers and family members are also able to make an application if they think a person needs to be detained. The person who is the subject of the application must be given a copy of the application and the medical practitioner's recommendation.

There are multiple Magistrates' Courts in Victoria. The application should be submitted to the Court closest to the person's residence and the application must be heard within 72 hours of the application being submitted. The person has the right to attend the hearing, and can have legal representation if they wish.  

The Magistrate makes their decision based on whether the criteria for making a detention and treatment order applies to that person. If the Magistrate makes an order the person is taken to the treatment centre, usually by ambulance. The current declared provider of treatment under the Act is St Vincent's Health in Fitzroy, Melbourne.

Upon arrival at the treatment centre, the person will be admitted and treated by an Addiction Medicine Team, including an Addiction Medicine Specialist. The order authorises detention and treatment for up to 14 days. When the person completes their treatment, they will be provided with a discharge plan and will be linked with support services that can help them on their journey of rehabilitation.

A person who is the subject of a detention and treatment order can apply at any time to the Magistrates' Court for the order to be revoked, on the grounds that the above criteria no longer apply. However, if the Court does not approve the revocation, the person will continue to be given treatment to help withdraw from the substance of dependence without their agreement.

There are prescribed forms that need to be used:

These forms are set out in the Severe Substance Dependence Treatment Regulations 2011.

Information for carers, guardians and family

Carers, guardians and family members of a person who has been detained under the Act play an important role in the treatment process. 

A guardian, over the age of 18, of a person with severe substance dependence may apply for a person to be placed under a detention and treatment order under the Act. 

A guardian of a person who has been proposed for a detention and treatment order must be given a copy of the application for the order. The guardian has the right to attend the hearing and make representations about the person to the Magistrates' Court. 

A person subject to a detention and treatment order can choose someone to protect their interests while they are detained in a treatment centre. This person is known as a 'Nominated Person' and is usually a carer, guardian, friend, case worker or family member (see Information for Nominated Persons).

The person subject to the detention and treatment order must make the nomination in writing. The senior clinician or manager of the treatment centre does not have to accept the Nominated Person if they think that it would put the health or safety of anyone at serious risk or if the person does not have the capacity to nominate their Nominated Person. If the senior clinician or manager of the treatment centre refuses a nomination, they must tell the person this and give the reasons for their decision.

The Nominated Person can refuse the nomination by informing treatment centre staff that they refuse. The treatment centre staff must inform the person if the Nominated Person does not wish to be nominated. 

The role of the Nominated Person is to support the person in detention and protect their interests while they are being treated. They may help the client to exercise their rights or act as an advocate. A Nominated Person can: 
  • apply to have the order revoked (stopped) 
  • be involved in decisions about the person's treatment and discharge 
  • be given a written copy of the person's rights 
  • be told when the person is admitted to the treatment centre, transferred to another treatment centre or discharged from the treatment centre 
  • be told when the person leaves the treatment centre, with or without permission 
  • be told if the order is revoked
  • be given a copy of the person's discharge plan. 
The Nominated Person remains so until the detention and treatment order expires or the person on the order decides that they no longer require the Nominated Person. 

Carers, guardians and family members should be aware that support to guide them through this process is available from DirectLine, Victoria Legal Aid and the Office of the Public Advocate. 

Further information and useful contacts

Further information and advice about the Severe Substance Dependence Treatment Act 2010 can be obtained from DirectLine on 1800 888 236. 
People under the Act, carers and family members can also contact:
  • Victoria Legal Aid (phone 1300 792 387) if they require free legal advice
  • The Office of the Public Advocate (phone 1300 309 337) if they need further advice.
If a person detained under the Act has a complaint, they should first talk to the staff at the treatment centre. If they are still unhappy they can call the Health Complaints Commissioner on 1300 582 113. Nominated persons, guardians, carers, family members or friends are able to help the person make a complaint.