Millions for addiction and mental health in B.C.'s budget for 'unprecedented need'

·2 min read

VICTORIA — British Columbia's finance minister says the government is making the largest investment in mental health and addictions in the province's history as part of Budget 2021.

Selina Robinson says the budget includes $500 million over three years to expand youth mental health programs, add 195 treatment and recovery beds for substance users and expand programs that respond to the overdose crisis.

That includes $330 million for treatment and recovery services for substance users, $152 million of which is dedicated to opioid treatment.

Robinson says emergency overdose prevention supports introduced during the pandemic will become permanent, such as the operation of new supervised consumption sites, Assertive Community Treatment teams and additional nursing supports.

The budget includes $75 million over three years to improve access to mental health services, including $53 million to expand early psychosis interventions, $14 million for the First Nations Health Authority and $8 million for eating disorder care and suicide prevention services.

In the five years since B.C. declared a public health emergency in the overdose crisis, more than 7,000 people have died, including record numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Forced isolation of the pandemic and disruption of illicit drug supply chains only made the problem worse with 1,176 illicit drug overdoses recorded in 2020.

The budget also targets support for children and youth with $97 million to quadruple the number of integrated child and youth support teams and expand other services like school-based programs.

"We are investing in our youth, so that small problems don't grow larger," Robinson says in her budget speech.

The funding for youth will also see the number of Foundry Centres across the province grow from 11 locations to 23 by 2024. The centres offer a one-stop shop for young people to access mental health care, substance use services, primary care, social services and peer support.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said last week moves to decriminalize possession of drugs, increase safe drug supplies and provide recovery programs are important steps, but more must be done.

The mental health and addictions funding supports the province's 10-year Pathways to Hope strategy for care, Robinson says. The plan aims to move from a crisis-response approach to a system based on wellness promotion, prevention and early intervention.

"We are taking action to help end the tragedy playing out in communities around British Columbia," Robinson says. "Our plan meets the unprecedented need with a historic response."

— By Amy Smart in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2021.

The Canadian Press