Statement From The Minister Of Mental Health And Addictions On The Overdose Crisis

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Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

“Canada is currently facing a parallel pandemic of mental health problems, increasing substance use and a deadly toxic drug supply. The recent national data and modelling projections on opioid overdose deaths confirms the negative effect COVID-19 has had on the overdose crisis. This crisis is heartbreaking and has taken a tragic toll on families, friends and communities across the country. Our hearts are with them as we continue to be inspired by the resilience and advocacy of those with lived and living experience.

Substance use and its harms are shaped by several complex factors, many of which can be beyond an individual’s control. These “root causes” include experiences of trauma; physical and mental health; income and access to stable housing; and the historical and ongoing effects of colonization and the residential school system on First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. As mental health and substance use among Canadians have worsened during the pandemic, it is clear that solutions to the overdose crisis must consider broader health and social issues. It is clear that the goal is to save lives.

In response to the increases in overdose deaths and related harms during the COVID-19 pandemic, our Government quickly implemented a wide range of new measures. Ensuring supports and services are tailored to and accessible for our diverse population is an important part of reducing stigma and other barriers to individuals seeking help.

The lack of available treatment, safer supply and other services remains a significant challenge facing those who use substances and the people who support them. We need to work with provinces and territories to create standards for substance use treatment programs to ensure Canadians can access quality and evidence-based support. Recovery looks different for everyone, and improved health and well-being is possible with safe, culturally appropriate, and trauma-informed care.

Addiction is a treatable health issue deserving of the same compassion and support we offer for other medical conditions. As the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reminds us every day: mental health is health. We need to continue changing the conversation around addiction and recognize and address stigma at all levels.

It is critical that we address substance use as a health issue, and continue to look at ways to divert people who use drugs from the criminal justice system and towards the healthcare system by providing social supports, including effective drug treatment services.

I have been impressed with the public health interventions in place to prevent overdose deaths in many parts of the country that are making a difference. Naloxone access and training, supervised consumption sites and safer supply programs, are saving lives. Without these interventions in harm reduction, the number of overdose deaths would be exponentially worse. Improving the data collection across Learning Health Systems will inform future decisions and is imperative to better support the health and well-being of Canadians.

In March 2021, Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, commissioned an Expert Task Force on Substance Use, whose reports provide important advice with regards to alternatives to criminal penalties for simple possession of controlled substances and federal drug policy. We thank the Task Force for their concrete advice on the path forward. Their reports call for bold action and is consistent with what I have been hearing across the country.

We need to do more.  We will do more. I am committed to working collaboratively with provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous governments and all other partners to achieve the results that will end this complex public health crisis.” – The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, P.C., M.P.

Quick Facts:

  • The government has committed over $700 million since 2017 to address the opioid overdose crisis. This includes:
    • an investment of $116 million over two years, in innovative community-led harm reduction, treatment and prevention projects, with a specific focus on those at greatest risk of substance-related harms, including young and middle-aged men, Indigenous Peoples, people experiencing chronic pain, and LGBTQ2IA+ populations; and
    • providing funding of $150M in 2018, which when cost-matched by provinces and territories will result in an investment of over $300M to improve access to evidence-based addictions treatment services.

SOURCE Public Health Agency of Canada

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