Our mental health and addictions system is overwhelmed

 By MPP Toby Barrett

I had a 20-year career with the Ontario Addiction Research Foundation (ARF) prior to becoming an MPP. ARF was a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre and one of the premier alcohol and drug research organizations in the world.

We always knew there was no panacea, no silver bullet, for the misuse of alcohol and other drugs given its myriad interconnectedness within society. It required a constellation of approaches through research, treatment, enforcement, prevention, education and health promotion.

 My wife, who is a psychiatric social worker, holds a similar view with respect to mental health.

Ontario has a mental health and addictions system that, in spite of the good efforts of front-line workers, is overwhelmed by extensive wait times, significant barriers to access, a lack of standardized data, and widespread bureaucracy.

Current data reveals one in three Canadians will experience a mental health and addictions issue within their lifetime – 70 per cent of those issues will develop early in life, either in childhood or as a young adult. Recent data also reveals, between 2016 and 2017, roughly 158,000 Ontarians visited an emergency department for a mental health or addictions-related issue. This number continues to increase annually. Half a million Canadians call in sick to work because of a mental health or addictions issue. These are staggering numbers.

We are committed to building an integrated mental health and addictions service system that will support people throughout their entire lives – a system where services are easier to access, are of high quality, and focused on better outcomes.

We have already invested $174 million in 2019-2020 to support community mental health and addictions services, justice services, supportive housing, acute mental health in-patient beds, and child and youth mental health services. These funds will also provide early supports and stabilize services provided in schools, community organizations, health centres, and hospitals across Ontario.

This funding is part of our overall commitment to inject $3.8 billion over 10 years into mental health and addictions. However, we need to ensure these investments make sense.

We propose the establishment of a Mental Health and Addictions Centre of Excellence within Ontario Health to develop clinical quality-of-service standards, and to monitor metrics related to performance. It would also provide resources and support to health care service providers, integrated care delivery systems, and others in the mental health and addictions sector. This will ensure the best possible care to people in need. 

We will also hold drug manufacturers and wholesalers accountable for their role in the opioid crisis, whereby so many people became addicted to narcotic analgesics. If passed, the proposed legislation would allow the Ontario government to sue opioid manufacturers and wholesalers for their alleged wrongdoing. It would allow us to recover past, present and future health care costs due to opioid-related disease, injury or illness. We feel joining the BC lawsuit instead of launching our own is the best course of action at this time.

Ontario has incurred productivity costs, because of premature morbidity and mortality, and long-term and short-term disability. We have incurred criminal justice costs, including police time, police work, courtroom and correctional expenditures for criminal offences partially or wholly attributable to opioid use.  

Our mental health and addictions system is overwhelmed, and cannot continue along the same way it has, and still expect different or better results.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk