Involuntary Commitment to Treatment
What is Involuntary Commitment?
Involuntary commitment or a Section 33, is a law that is currently held in South Africa that allows a qualified person to request a court order requiring someone to be committed and treated involuntarily for an alcohol or substance use disorder. This is known as a Section 33 or more specifically, Section33(1)(a)(b)(c) of Act 70 2008, Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Abuse Act.
- The Act aims to :
- Provide a national response for the combating of substance abuse and to provide for mechanisms aimed at demand and harm reduction in relation to substance abuse through early prevention, intervention, treatment and reintegration programmes;
- to provide for the registration and establishment of treatment centres and halfway houses;
- to provide for the committal of persons to and from treatment centres and for their treatment, rehabilitation and skills development in such treatment centres;
- to provide for the establishment of the Central Drug Authority, and to provide for matters connected therewith.
This act is aimed at helping families get the necessary assistance for their loved ones who are abusing substances and unwilling to seek help themselves.
Who may Have Somebody Involuntarily Committed?
Any person may request to have someone placed into involuntary commitment in a treatment facility, however, only a qualified practitioner may request the court to commit someone to treatment. The family member may request an application through the court-appointed practitioner. This could be extremely time-consuming though and often in these cases, there is a sense of urgency in order to get the individual help so as to avoid further criminal acts or a potential overdose or death.
A qualified practitioner may request the court to commit someone to treatment under section 33 such as a:
– Police officer
– Social worker
– Blood relative
– Court official
In most cases, the family can seek out a private social worker to ensure that the process goes quickly and smoothly.
How Does the Process Work?
The qualified practitioner, (in most cases it is the social worker appointed by the family), will submit an affidavit (provided by the family) for an order of involuntary commitment as well as a psychosocial report written by the appointed practitioner.
In most cases, the social worker will have to base their report from the family’s affidavit and interviews with the family members as they will not be able to interview the individual concerned. This is because in most cases, the person is not willing to go into treatment. The appointed practitioner then submits these documents to the local court. The court will then review the documentation.
The court will issue a summons or warrant of arrest if necessary, in order to get the unwilling individual brought to court. The warrant is issued if there are reasonable grounds to believe the person subject to the application won’t appear voluntarily for a hearing, and that further delay would present an immediate physical danger to the person. Once the person is at the court, they have the right to be represented by an attorney. If the court finds that the person cannot afford a lawyer, the court will immediately appoint an attorney.
The difficult part of the process is that the family will need to testify against their loved one which in some cases can be difficult and traumatic. The court shall order an examination by a social worker, however, the person has a right to refuse the examination. The person’s attorney may present independent expert testimony or other testimony from family, friends, employers, and others concerned.
After testimony and argument, the judge will decide if there is clear and convincing evidence that the person has an alcohol or substance use disorder; and if there is a likelihood of serious harm to self or others as a result of their substance use disorder. If both criteria are met, the person will be committed involuntarily.
What is the Reason for Section 33?
Serious harm is defined as “a substantial risk of physical harm to the person, himself/herself as manifested by evidence of threats of, or attempts at suicide or serious bodily harm; or a substantial risk of physical harm to others as manifested by evidence of homicidal or other violent behaviour or evidence that others are placed in reasonable fear of violent behaviour and serious physical harm to them; or a very substantial risk of physical impairment or injury to the person himself/herself as manifested by evidence that such person’s judgment is so affected that he/she is unable to protect himself/herself in the community and that reasonable provision for his/her protection is not available in the community.
The reason someone would need to be subjected to an involuntary commitment would be because they are a serious risk to themselves or others and need to get help urgently. The likelihood of serious harm must be directly related to substance use and must be a current or imminent threat.
How to Move Forward
The best way to move forward when dealing with an individual that is unwilling to go into treatment is to contact your nearest treatment facility or qualified practitioner. They will be able to assist you on the way forward and best possible procedure going forward and advise you accordingly.
Dominique Le Claire Rossouw
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