The B.C. government has announced what it describes as a “historic” expansion of mental health and substance-use programming for youth across the province.
Thirty-three new or expanded substance-use programs are now available to young people in need, supported by 130 new health-care workers, according to the minister of mental health and addictions.
“There has never been such an expansion at any point in time and it’s going to save lives,” Sheila Malcolmson said Thursday at the Esquimalt Health Unit.
“We know that there are still young people and families in deep crisis and people that have lost their lives because of failures in our health-care system.”
The announcement comes as the province continues to grapple with the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and the illicit drug crisis. On Wednesday, the B.C. Coroners Service revealed that latter killed at least 1,827 people between January and October.
“We are fighting these two public health emergencies without the foundation of an established system of care,” Malcolmson said.
“We’ve been working really hard to build that system up and fill many gaps, but I can’t say strongly enough … that we have more work to do.”
Thursday’s announcement includes new therapists, clinicians, social workers, harm reduction coordinators, epidemiologists, Indigenous patient navigators, and more.
The 33 new or expanded programs will span every health authority, but access will vary by region. The enhanced services include community and school-based early intervention, crisis intervention and wraparound support for youth in bed-based care.
“We’re facing a public health emergency as young people in our communities are dying from toxic drug poisonings,” said Chantal Brasset, family peer support worker at the Foundry Victoria Youth Clinic.
“Families continue to be frustrated with waiting lists when their young people are ready to get help. Our hope is that this new funding will alleviate some of the stress that families are facing.”
Thursday’s announcement draws its roots in ‘A Pathway to Hope,’ a 2019 government roadmap for building a “comprehensive system of mental health and addictions care that works for everyone in B.C., no matter who they are, where they live or how much money they make.”
On Vancouver Island, in particular, the province is now hiring 27 full-time-equivalent positions focused on youth mental health and substance care.
There are no new treatment beds for youth included in the announcement, Malcolmson confirmed, but new beds are part of the larger budget.