DRC hears stories of chemical restraint

The Disability Royal Commission public hearing in September examined the use of psychotropic medication as a chemical restraint.  A chemical restraint occurs when medication is not used to treat a diagnosed mental disorder, a physical illness or a physical condition but used for the purpose of influencing a person’s behaviour.

Advocates from around the country shared their observations and insights on the topic, reflecting an over-reliance on psychotropic medication to manage “behaviours” and inadequate oversight mechanisms and safeguards for people with disability.

This hearing primarily examined “Psychotropic medication, behaviour support and behaviours of concern”, with a particular focus on the Queensland jurisdiction. The witness list included representatives from Queensland Advocacy Incorporated (QAI) and Speaking Up For You (SUFY) in Brisbane, VALID in Victoria, Independent Advocacy North Queensland (IANQ) in Townsville and Council for Intellectual Disability (CID) in NSW.

"...those running this service had a locum doctor come in and prescribe a psychotropic medication to control my son's behaviour, and on at least a couple of occasions we were not informed of that until after it had happened." Dariane McLean, VALID

"...the doctor should be looking at these alternatives and most importantly looking at whether the behaviour is being caused by pain. Because, really, all of these behaviours... they're a sign of distress. Whether the distress is "I want to do that, I don't want to do that", they're distressed because they can't communicate what it is they want to get across, and if you address the underlying distress first, then the need for chemical restraint will often not exist" Joanna Mullins, Independent Advocacy North Queensland

"...we just don't really believe that the safeguards function very well. And when, because chemical restraint has legislation behind it, you know, it's sort of normalises the use. It makes it socially normative to use chemical restraint. It's often used as a first rather than a last resort." Kathy Kendell, Speaking Up For You

"...when people are given chemical restraint it's just subduing the symptoms of a behaviour rather than actually addressing an unmet need or someone's desire for something …medication can be looked at as the easiest way to subdue someone's behaviour without actually going through and working with them and their family and their support team around how to best support them.." Courtney Wolf, Queesland Advocacy Incorporated

"...Too often it is the first option and issues such as environmental issues of where the person's living and who they're living with and what how their service is responding and so forth aren't addressed, and are never addressed, really. Yeah, the medication is a way of assisting service providers to be able to work with people without too much of a backlash from the people who live in that house." Dianne Toohey, Speaking Up For You

If you’d like to hear the words of disability advocates, you can find videos set to play from the relevant point in each day’s hearing, along with some direct quotes from Advocates and Self Advocates on DANA’s Spotlight on Advocacy page.