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Safe injection supplies from Ottawa's Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. [Photo © Alyssa Del Castillo-Roussy]

“Official photo of Kathleen Wynne, MPP for Don Valley West and Premier of Ontario.” [Photo © Libby Adder is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0]

The Ontario provincial government has announced a new four-year investment of $2.1 billion for mental-health and addictions support services.

It is what the Premier Kathleen Wynne’s office described as “an unprecedented investment in mental health and addictions that will improve care for the one in three people in Ontario who experience mental health or addictions challenges in their lifetime.”

On March 21, Wynne visited the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto to make the announcement for the new funding. CAMH declined to comment on the new funding, citing how close it is to this year’s provincial election.

Youth mental health

A key direction of the new funding will be the aspects of it that relate to the province’s youth. In the next two years, the Government of Ontario estimates that 12,000 more young people will have access to support services in their communities, along with the creation of 15 brand-new youth wellness hubs.

[Infographic © Patrick Barrios, data from https://bit.ly/1fyaAFG]

Dr. Leslie Buckley, the head of addiction services at the University Health Network, helps with the treatment of university student patients 18 and older.

She says that a focus on the mental health of youth is critical.

“So many people I talk to have issues that stem back to when they were teenagers or even younger,” said Buckley.

“A focus on the youth is a great step to assess change a little bit earlier down the stream so we can prevent issues from getting worse. Helping people earlier is always more effective.”

Additionally, every Ontario secondary school will have access to an additional mental health worker. According to the announcement, roughly 400 new positions in this regard will be created in the next two years.

Sharlene Hunter, the Ottawa-Carleton School Board communications officer, spoke on behalf of the board’s superintendent about the issue of mental health.

She says that the details of the investment have not yet been provided, but that the newly invested support services are expected to be in place by the start of the new school year this September.

These investments in youth mental health and addiction support will cost Ontario roughly $570 million over the four years.

Addiction support

The addiction support facet of the funding comes at a time when solutions on how to deal with the current opioid crisis have been hotly debated. Ottawa Public Health estimated that there were three to four overdoses everyday in the city in 2017.

Buckley says that she would like to see an increased focus on early intervention as a treatment in helping harmful addiction issues.

“There has been a focus on trying to get people treatment who are going to emergency rooms a lot with mental-health or addiction issues. It is easier, safer, and more effective to treat people early on,” said Buckley.

In 2017, Ontario announced a $222 million investment designed to address the crisis. The investment was made into expanding services, hiring more staff, and improving access to addiction support. Last August, Ottawa opened the area’s first legal, supervised injection site in the ByWard Market and has since opened a second on Murray Street.

Ottawa’s Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. [Photo © Alyssa Del Castillo-Roussy]

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre (SHCHC) has been fighting for its own legal injection centre for years. In the SHCHC’s 2016-17 Annual Report, they praised the advances made in Ottawa, but also spotlighted what remains missing from drug addiction support in Canada.

This includes more access to treatment, testing, and advocating for further drug policy reform. The centre was hoping to have Ottawa’s first indoor legal injection site open by last October, but has faced obstacles regarding funding for its renovations.

Clients can get safe injection supplies at the OASIS Junction at the centre.

[Photo © Alyssa Del Castillo-Roussy]

Buckley says she thinks safe injections sites are helping, but that it is not the only option Canada should be considering to help addiction issues.

“There’s no question that safe injection sites are helpful but with money you want to ask what is the most helpful. It’s really hard to compare between different types of treatment for what is really the most helpful. I think that is our biggest challenge right now,” said Buckley.

[Photos © Alyssa Del Castillo-Roussy]

Overall, this $2.1 billion investment in mental health and addiction support in Ontario is part of a 10-year agreement the province made with the federal government to improve services. Although the parameters for how the money will be spent have been laid out, further details regarding the implementation of the support are still to come.

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