New Brunswick

N.B. health minister to announce addictions, mental health plan

Easier and faster access to mental health supports will be a dominant theme Tuesday afternoon when New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard reveals her mental health and addiction action plan.

COVID-19 pandemic has placed greater pressure on supports for addictions, mental health

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard is set to announce her mental health and addiction action plan at a Tuesday press conference at 2 p.m. AT. (Submitted by the Government of New Brunswick)

Easier and faster access to mental health supports will be a dominant theme Tuesday afternoon when New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard reveals her mental health and addiction action plan.

Some of it will expand on pilot projects already in motion, such as the mobile crisis response unit that launched in Saint John in October. It pairs Saint John police officers with registered nurses who work as a team, answering crisis calls or providing checkups on individuals who are considered high risk.

The project was given a $900,000 budget to operate for three years. For November, December and January, the unit received, on average, 234 calls per month.

In her live-streamed announcement, the minister will likely reveal more details about the expansion of the walk-in model for mental health, similar to the clinic that started in December in Campbellton, N.B.

Debby Warren is with Ensemble Moncton, a social services organization. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

Open three days a week to people who don't have appointments, but feel ready to ask for help, the clinic provides access to same-day counselling.

Shephard has already said she'll create another 13 clinics in locations around the province.

She has signalled she wants to reduce waiting times for care and provide appropriate support to people at earlier stages of distress, before situations escalate.

Harm reduction or law enforcement strategy?

In the lead up to the last provincial election, the Progressive Conservatives promised to tackle the challenge of hard drugs through youth prevention, more treatment facilities and drug enforcement support.

The campaign platform promised to target organized criminal activity and disrupt the supply.

The use of crystal meth has spiked in New Brunswick during the pandemic as other drugs have become more difficult to obtain. (Ralph Orlowski/Reuters)

Debby Warren said the pandemic has already done some of that for them — and not in a good way.

Since borders have closed, she said people are less sure of where their drugs are coming from and what is in them.

"It's all been disrupted," said the executive director of Ensemble Moncton.

"So crystal meth has become the drug that's easier to access and it's much, much cheaper."

Warren said supplies of pharmaceutical opioids have also been affected. She's worried more pills are coming from the black market and that they're being made with fentanyl.

She said her agency has already set aside a room for an overdose prevention program.

It would provide a safe space where people could come in off the street and consume their drugs, using clean supplies provided on site.

Users are then expected to stick around for at least 15 minutes so staff can watch for any signs of overdose.

If that happens, staff have medication such as Naloxone at the ready and can call for emergency medical assistance.

Warren said she needs funding for staff, supplies and insurance.

The cost of insuring Ensemble's needle distribution service increased this past year from about $1,100 to $11,000.

COVID helping fuel increased referrals for treatment

The province has said referrals for mental health and addiction services have been increasing since 2015. The number of referrals for adults went up nine per cent. For children and youth, it increased 33 per cent.

The government also anticipates a long-term impact from the pandemic.

In the party's platform, it cited an unidentified survey that said 51 per cent of New Brunswickers felt they were at higher risk of mental health concerns due to COVID, driven by "isolation, financial stress, higher use of substances, and an increase in domestic and intimate partner violence."

The minister is expected to host a news conference at 2 p.m. AT and answer questions from the media.

The event will be live streamed.

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