Canada establishes a ministry of mental health and addiction. What does it take for this to work? – National


Canada has a new ministry to tackle thorny mental health and addictions issues across the country.

But experts warn the move will be hollow if the government doesn’t make concrete policy changes to back it up.

“(The ministry) needs to have real resources – financial resources, as well as human resources – as well as a very clear mandate to address some of the major issues facing our country right now,” Bernie Pauly, professor and scientist at the ‘University of Victoria. with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, said.

“More specifically the overdose crisis. “

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Carolyn Bennett, who previously served as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, as Premier of Mental Health and Addictions when her cabinet was sworn in on Tuesday.

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As such, she will likely lead the charge of deploying the $ 4.5 billion promised in new federal health transfers to provinces and territories over the next five years.

These transfers, the liberal platform promised, would aim to provide free and accessible mental health services.

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The creation of the ministry is a good “first step”, according to experts like Karen Urbanoski, associate professor at the University of Victoria.

But, she warned, “we want to see concrete actions, in addition to the announcement of a minister”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created the perfect storm for an increase in opioid overdoses. More than 1,700 opioid overdoses have occurred in the first three months of 2021, according to the Government of Canada’s own figures. That was about 20 deaths per day, which is a 65% increase from the first three months of 2020 – just before COVID-19 hit.

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“People have been in situations where they’re more isolated, they’re more likely to use, a lot less services (are) available due (to)… COVID restrictions,” Pauly said.

Bennett and the Liberal government can help change this problem by decriminalizing drugs at the federal level, according to Pauly. He says it would help ensure a secure supply.

“If you look at historically, during alcohol prohibition there was so much harm and people dying from dangerous sources of alcohol. So we made alcohol a legal substance, ”she said.

“You can think of it like we don’t have food safety regulations. “

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According to Urbanoski, two other important steps in tackling mental health and addiction issues are “the need for drug coverage” and access to counseling.

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“It is worrying that many Canadians do not have counseling coverage through their health benefits,” said Urbanoski.

As it stands, some of the “most basic services are not publicly funded,” according to Lori Spadorcia, vice president of public affairs and partnerships at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

“We have to get to a place where it is,” she said.

“We have evidence-based therapies that are life-saving services that are not funded consistently across the country and therefore are not equitable (and) accessible. So these are just things we must move forward on once and for all. “

The pitfalls of a new portfolio

The government has yet to reveal details of the new ministry other than its name. The new portfolio takes mental health and addiction out of the purview of the Minister of Health and gives them the full attention of the new Minister.

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However, this is something experts have warned it has gone wrong in the province that has tried it before: British Columbia.

“The health ministry, which often has the most resources, is somewhat less involved in responding to issues like the overdose crisis, and yet it is still ultimately health.” Pauly said.

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But by handing Bennett the title of associate health minister, the government has shown that it is aware of keeping the mental health and addictions portfolio under the aegis of the health ministry, according to Spadorcia.

“We want to make sure that mental health becomes a central part of the health system,” she said.

The President of the Treasury Board, Jean-Yves Duclos, has been chosen to succeed Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, who has become the face of the federal government’s response to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While he may have his hands full with the COVID-19 pandemic and health transfer negotiations with the provinces, Duclos will also need to closely monitor the mental health portfolio, according to Spadorcia.

“This connection is really critical,” she said.

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In fact, the whole government will need to work closely together to be effective on this file, Spadorcia said. Ministers of Housing, Diversity and Inclusion, Seniors and Families all have a role to play in addressing mental health challenges.

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“We will seek to have this cabinet work closely together on the mental health file,” she said.

“There are so many intersections here and so many essential elements to help ensure that Canadians are healthy and mentally healthy. “

The time for them to start taking this action is now, experts say.

“It’s high time,” said Spadorcia.

“Canadians are talking more about mental health. It’s time to take action. And I think what’s at stake is the health and well-being of our society.

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