Mental health advocates call on politicians to focus on opioid crisis

Canadian Mental Health Association

As part of its ‘I Choose’ election campaign, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is calling on provincial party leaders to focus on the opioid crisis.

The association says political parties are falling short when it comes to promises to solve the opioid crisis.

“We really are at a time when all parties understand the importance of mental health and addictions, and each of them has committed significant funding to this sector,” said CEO Camille Quenneville of the CMHA’s Ontario branch.

“Where it gets a little tricky for us is when not enough attention is paid to specifics, where it relates to how we’re going to help those who are struggling. So on the opioid issue, for example, we’d like to see a whole lot more information as it relates to some ways to reduce the number of people who are impacted very negatively and in some cases have died, ” said Quenneville.

The CMHA is putting out what it calls pertinent information ahead of voting on June 2. She said the number of people who have died from opioid overdoses in the last six years in Ontario is 10,400, the equivalent of the population of places like Kapuskasing and Parry Sound.

“It’s horrifying to think of it in that context, but sometimes you have to use those examples to have some shock value as it relates to what this really means,” Quenneville said.

“For those of us who work in the sector, it is heartbreaking. We strongly believe that some harm reduction efforts would help to improve and most importantly, safer supply.”

The CMHA said opioid-related deaths are highest in central and northern Ontario. Northeastern Ontario has the worst rate in the province with 44.7 deaths per 100,000 people. That’s followed by northwestern Ontario (33.8deaths per 100,000) and North Simcoe and Muskoka third (24.7 deaths per 100,000.)

“It’s a huge problem that we’re seeing on an everyday basis,” said Cindy Rose, manager of harm reduction and shelter services for the CMHA Sudbury/Manitoulin branch.

“I think it’s time that, you know, we have some funds really allocated to being able to increase the opportunities for more services and more training for staff to be able to help these people.”

On top of government support and funding, another big focus is public awareness. Education and trying to reduce the stigma around opioid usage.

“What has been most alarming for us is that over the course of the last several years, since 2016, we have seen the highest rates that we’ve ever seen in this opioid pandemic,” said Quenneville.

Leading up to the June election, the CMHA plans to highlight different issues including base budget funding, supportive housing, and opioids.

Quenneville said each week focuses on a new issue to help improve the entire sector to better support Ontarians moving forward.

“It’s really just an effort to get the right information into voters' hands.”

More information on the CMHA’s I Choose election campaign can be found here: www.ichoosemha.ca