B.C. has earmarked a historic half-billion dollars to focus on mental health and addiction services over the next three fiscal years, as part of the province’s 2021 budget.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only health emergency facing our province,” Finance Minister Selina Robinson said Tuesday (April 20).
A majority of it, $330 million, will go towards substance-use treatment and recovery services in the province, including $152 million to address the opioid crisis and for the creation of 195 new treatment and recovery beds.
This is in accordance with A Pathway to Hope – the government’s long-term strategy to transform its mental health and substance use system from a crisis-response approach to a system based on prevention and early intervention.
B.C. has the country’s highest rate of hospitalization due to mental illness and substance use, according to the province. In 2020, it recorded nine deaths every two days due to the increased toxicity of illicit street-level drugs and many people using alone to adhere to social distancing.
“Thousands of people we have lost to a poisoned drug supply — the parents and siblings, children and colleagues, friends and neighbours whose lives were cut short,” Robinson said.
Overdose prevention and safe consumption sites that have emerged amid the pandemic to help reduce overdose deaths will remain in operation.
The province is planning to ramp up access to overdose-reversing naloxone kits, which have been free to the public since 2019, as well as increase overdose response training. Roughly 241,000 kits were doled out in 2019. An additional 10,000 are said to be shipped to health authorities this year.
Robinson noted the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of mental health, including the challenges faced by youth.
As part of a new $97 million investment in the mental health of children and youth, 15 additional school districts in B.C. will see integrated teams of mental health and substance use clinicians and Indigenous workers be able to provide quicker, more direct support to students.
Foundry centres that offer mental health and substance use services for British Columbians aged 12 to 24 will also double, from 11 locations to 22.
“Many people already struggled with conditions like anxiety, and depression before the pandemic,” noted Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions in its updated service plans.
“Many more are experiencing mental health struggles due to ongoing disruption of our lives.”
Youth and young adults across the province will find it easier to access early psychosis intervention, for which $53 million has been set aside to expand the early diagnosis programs to all of B.C.
The First Nations Health Authority will be granted $14 million to deliver mental health and addictions services to Indigenous peoples through its own network.
An additional $8 million will be used to expand existing eating disorder treatment and care in provincial health authorities.
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