Question Period Note: Federal Policy on Substance Use and Overdose Crisis

About

Reference number:
MHA-2023-QP-0009
Date received:
Dec 21, 2023
Organization:
Health Canada
Name of Minister:
-
Title of Minister:
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions

Issue/Question:

Canada is experiencing an unprecedented and unrelenting rate of opioid-related overdose deaths and harms, due to the increasingly toxic illegal drug supply, and has been exacerbated by that the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 2016, more than 38,500 people have died of apparent opioid toxicity in Canada.
The 2021 Mandate letter for the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health includes a mandate priority to “Advance a comprehensive strategy to address problematic{sic} substance use in Canada, supporting efforts to improve public education to reduce stigma, and supporting provinces and territories and working with Indigenous communities to provide access to a full range of evidence-based treatment and harm reduction, as well as to create standards for substance use treatment programs.”

Suggested Response:

Every day in Canada, people who use drugs are dying, often alone. This is unacceptable. We need to leverage every available tool to save lives and protect the health and safety of Canadians.
The Government of Canada is working with the provinces and territories to enable a full range of integrated, evidence-based services and supports, including prevention, harm reduction and treatment. 
We remain committed to addressing the complex factors that can contribute to substance use to stop the needless harms and deaths of Canadians.
IF PRESSED ON CDSS INVESTMENTS IN BUDGET 2023
Budget 2023 provided a total of $359.2 million over five years to support a renewed Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy.
The renewed strategy will continue to address both public health and public safety, and guide the Government's work to save lives and protect the health of Canadians.
Recognizing the need for comprehensive approaches to save lives, our actions include improving access to treatment and harm reduction; increasing awareness, prevention and stigma reduction activities; further building the evidence base; and strengthening enforcement to address illegal drug production and trafficking.
IF PRESSED ON FEDERAL INVESTMENTS TO ADDRESS THE OVERDOSE CRISIS …
Since 2017, our Government has invested more than $1 billion to directly address the overdose crisis and toxic illegal drug supply.
Our investments also support efforts to strengthen Canada’s health and social systems.
Through Budget 2023, the Government of Canada is providing close to $200-billion to provinces and territories over the next 10 years to support health system transformation.
This includes $25 billion for shared priorities, including increased access to mental health and substance use services and ensuring the integration of these services across the healthcare system.
IF PRESSED ON SUPERVISED CONSUMPTION SITES (SCS) …
The Supreme Court of Canada, experts, service providers, parents and people with lived experience agree that supervised consumption sites save lives and often are the first step along the path to a healthier life.
They are essential to keeping people who use drugs alive by providing them access to a range of support services in a sanitary and safe environment, staffed by trained professionals and peers.
There are currently 39 sites in Canada. They have seen over 4.3 million visits and responded to 50,000 overdoses. Importantly, SCS are responsible for over 256,000 referrals to health and social services.
IF PRESSED ON THE DEATH OUTSIDE OF SOUTH RIVERDALE COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTRE (TORONTO)…

I offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of the individual who lost their life in July in Leslieville. This is a tragic situation that concerns us all.
The Government of Canada is deeply committed to providing evidence-based services and supports to people who use drugs, and, in doing so, takes the health and safety of those using these services, and their surrounding communities, very seriously.
We will continue to work with all sites, as well as all levels of government, to support life-saving services for those struggling with substance use, while addressing the need to safeguard the safety and security of our communities.
IF PRESSED ON WHAT THE GOVERNMENT IS DOING REGARDING THE COMMUNITY CONCERNS AROUND SOUTH RIVERDALE…
On September 19, 2023, the Government of Canada conducted a compliance verification at the South Riverdale Community Health Centre. The verification assessed whether the site is operating appropriately and following the rules in their exemption. This included verifying that required training and security measures are in place.
The Government of Canada continues to work closely with the Ontario Ministry of Health and South Riverdale Community Health Centre to address ongoing community concerns.
All levels of government must work together to ensure access to these life-saving services in a manner which also respects the security of the surrounding community.
IF PRESSED ON THE MINIMUM DISTANCE THAT AN SCS CAN BE FROM SCHOOLS…
Supervised consumption sites provide life saving services and connect people suffering from substance use harms with the help they need.
These sites must comply with federal, provincial and municipal laws.
While there is no set minimum distance from schools, supervised consumption sites must specify how community concerns, such as proximity to schools, will be mitigated.
All levels of government must work together to ensure access to these life-saving services in a manner which also respects the security of the surrounding community.
IF PRESSED ON A NATIONAL APPROACH TO ALTERNATIVES TO CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR PERSONAL DRUG POSSESSION (DECRIMINALIZATION)…
We recognize that, for people who drugs, having a criminal record can exacerbate many of the drivers of substance use and act as a barrier to accessing the services and supports they need to achieve wellbeing.
Our Government supports policies and approaches that divert people who use drugs away from the criminal justice system and toward appropriate health and social supports.
We continue to work with our partners to support life-saving services for those struggling with substance use, while safeguarding the safety and security of the community
IF PRESSED ON INVOLUNTARY TREATMENT FOR SUBSTANCE USE…
A full continuum of supports is necessary to meet people who use drugs where they are.
Seeking treatment for substance use is an individual choice, and for people who use drugs, involuntary treatment may exacerbate stigmatization and be a barrier to accessing life-saving care.
To ensure compassionate, comprehensive and collaborative care, our Government supports evidence-based, person-centred, trauma-informed, and culturally safe treatment options.

Background:

N/A

Additional Information:

The Government of Canada has delivered on our commitment to advance a comprehensive strategy to address substance use-related harms.
The CDSS was launched in 2016 and Budget 2023 provided $359.2 million over 5 years, with $5.7 million ongoing to support a renewed CDSS which will continue to guide the Government's work to save lives and protect the health and safety of Canadians.
The CDSS is a comprehensive strategy that supports a full spectrum of activities to address substance use, including prevention, timely and accessible harm reduction, treatment, and recovery services, as well as public safety.
The renewed CDSS continues to support public education activities aimed at increasing awareness, prevention and stigma reduction that have proven effective at delaying or reducing the risk of substance use-related harms. Since 2018, the “Know More Opioids” tour has interacted with over 175,000 young people across Canada and, in the last year, the “Ease The Burden” campaign video targeting men in trades has received more than 26.8 million views.
The renewed CDSS also commits an additional $144 million over five years to Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP) to support community-led projects, including projects targeting populations disproportionally impacted by substance use harms, such as Indigenous and racialized communities. This investment is on top of investments of over $500 million since 2017 to support over 380 projects, including projects related to substance use prevention, treatment, harms reduction, recovery and the reduction of stigma.
To support provinces and territories (P/Ts), close to $200-billion has been provided over the next 10 years to support health system transformation, including $25 billion to support bilateral agreements on shared health priorities such as improving access to mental health and substance use services. This investment is in addition to previous bilateral agreements such as the 2018 Emergency Treatment Fund (ETF) that provided $150 million to P/Ts which was used to expand existing treatment approaches.