Coercive Use of Vaccines Against Drug Addiction

Is It Permissible and Is It Good Public Policy?

Published in: Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law, v. 12, no. 2, Winter 2004, p. 260-329

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2004

by M. Susan Ridgely, Martin Y. Iguchi

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Vaccines against drug addiction may represent the hope of the future for many addicted individuals who are eager to access state-of-the-art treatment. They may also be a promising solution for a society seeking to lower the social and economic costs of addiction among populations such as recidivist drug offenders. Given the medical and socio-economic benefits, this Article explores the legal and public policy aspects of a potential use of vaccines to fight drug addiction. The following is the core question: Will current law support the coercive use of vaccines against drug addiction? Authority to coerce treatment is derived from the state's parens patriae and police powers, but is constrained by the countervailing right to self-determination in medical treatment. That right typically assumes the competence of the individuals making the self-determination. Even given competence, however, the interests of the state may prevail over the rights of individuals within certain classes in society. This Article reviews pertinent statutes and case law bearing on the state's ability to just the use of coercion. The argument presented is that for some classes of individuals, and in some situations, coerced immunotherapy is likely to be legal, subject to the constraints of due process and establishment of the modality's safety and effectiveness. Assuming a situation in which immunotherapy may be legally coerced, this Article concludes by offering some reflections for policy makers and clinicians on fairness in implementing a policy of coercion.

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