About 100 people gathered in front of Province House in Charlottetown Tuesday evening to tell the P.E.I. government it's not doing enough to help people struggling with addictions and mental health problems.

Among the speakers were a number of people who said they've lost family members to suicide, including Dianne Young, who organized the demonstration.

Greg MacKinnon told the crowd he's had his own struggle with addiction and conquered it. He has since spent time working as a youth addictions counsellor.

But that was 25 years ago, and he said there was a better continuum of care back then. The system today is too fragmented to help the people who need help the most, he said.

"Now it's all piecemeal. They take people in, they detox them, and they shove them out the door and tell them you can come back in anywhere from two weeks to three months for a rehab program," said MacKinnon.

"It's ridiculous to do that to an addict, it's not viable."

MacKinnon and several other speakers called on the P.E.I. government to develop a 24-7 residential addictions treatment facility in the province.

'I'll do it tomorrow'

Speaking in the Legislature, Premier Robert Ghiz said his government is in the process of developing a mental health services strategy, and he is not going to jump ahead in that process.

Robert Ghiz

P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz says he is ready to build a residential addictions centre if his chief mental health and addictions officer recommends it. (CBC)

Ghiz said some experts the government has consulted with don't believe a residential facility is the best option for the province, but he pledged if the province's new chief mental health and addictions officer, Dr. Rhonda Matters, recommends one, he will build it.

"If she comes back and says to us, 'Yes having a facility in the province of Prince Edward Island will lead towards better outcomes,' I will not hesitate," said Ghiz.

"The opposition, if we have to increase our deficit by another three to five million dollars, I hope they stand up and applaud us, because I'll do it tomorrow."

Matters was appointed P.E.I.'s first chief mental health and addictions officer last fall. Health Minister Doug Currie said she will report shortly on next steps and immediate investments to be made to support addictions treatment.

In the meantime the government is still expanding services. A new 10-bed transition unit within the provincial addictions facility will open on April 28.

“These beds will be available for clients who have completed inpatient withdrawal management but require additional support before returning to their communities,” said Currie in a news release.

Clients will be admitted directly to the transition unit following detox for a four-week program focused on rehabilitation and relapse prevention. Currently inpatient rehabilitation is operated only four times a year. The government said this led to low bed utilization and a high drop-out rate.

The transition unit is expected to improve wait times.

For mobile device users: Should the province wait to make a decision on residential addictions care?