The City of Toronto has released its five-year mental health and harm reduction strategy with a focus on mental health and treatment.
During a press conference Monday, councilors Chris Moise and Ausma Malik outlined the seven main actions of “Our Health, Our City” aimed at mitigating the harms related to substance use and promoting mental health and welfare
“This strategy is a testament to the dedication of a united front to address mental health, substance use and related challenges. Our health, our city is not just a document. It is a commitment to the well-being of every Torontonian,” Moise said.
- The promotion of mental health and well-being
- Prevention and reduction of substance use-related harm and death
- Expanding access to the full continuum of high-quality, evidence-based, client-centered services to address mental health and/or substance use problems, including harm reduction and treatment supports
- Advance community safety and well-being for all
- Improving access to housing and other social determinants of health
- Supporting mentally healthy workplaces and optimizing the mental health of workers
- Proactively identify and respond to emerging mental health and substance use issues
It also provides advice “tailored to different age groups, recognizing Toronto’s growing, aging and increasingly diverse population.”
The focus of the strategy, according to the advisors, is that mental health and addiction is not a criminal problem, it is a health problem.
“Recognizing the roots of mental illness and substance use are social discrimination, inequity and trauma, this strategy emphasizes the need to invest in families, neighborhoods and communities,” said Malik.
Malik said the recent statistics they have seen are alarming, with one in two Canadians affected by mental health problems by the age of 40.
Only 55 percent of adults in Toronto said they are in “very good” or “excellent” mental health, down from 71 percent in 2017.
“No one is unaffected by the impact of mental health and substance use and challenges persist, ones we know well, and include the drug toxicity crisis, the high costs of living in a city like ‘and ours, housing affordability, and the lingering impacts of the drug. the COVID-19 pandemic.”
He added that implementation will require a concerted effort from multiple city divisions, community organizations and health care partners.
“In a city like ours, we should all have what we need to thrive and that includes affordable housing, access to supports and a sense of community and belonging that is also part of the solution. “
The commitment is based on funding from the provincial and federal governments.
“There are many MPs from Toronto to see what happens on the streets of Toronto every day. They are not immune to it. They have friends, their family are all affected by what happens on the streets of Toronto,” said Moise. “And I feel like I’m in a good position to advocate for us.”
Another key part of the strategy includes Toronto’s application to Health Canada for an exemption to decriminalize drugs.
Toronto Public Health applied for the exemption to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs in January 2022 and is currently engaged in ongoing discussions with Health Canada.
In 2022, there were 509 deaths from opioid toxicity, representing a 271 percent increase from 2015, all deaths that could have been prevented, according to the City.
However, Paramedic Services Chief Bikram Chawla said they already treat mental health and substance abuse issues as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue.
“We’re starting to build a bit of an infrastructure that can really respond to those calls in ways that I think will be much more efficient than what we’ve really been relying on in recent years.”
“Health Canada coming into the picture at a later date is not going to change a lot of the things we do here in the city,” Moise added.
Health Canada said they cannot comment on exemption requests currently under review and added that Toronto Public Health submitted and updated the request to them on March 23, 2023.
“We will continue to work with Toronto Public Health to ensure that public health and public safety considerations are included,” read their statement. “A top priority of the Government of Canada is to combat the drug addiction and overdose crisis, which continues to take a tragic toll on families, friends and communities across Canada.”
The five-year plan will be before the Toronto Board of Health for discussion on November 27.
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