© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Richard Wedge, left, Health P.E.I., Minister Doug Currie, and Dr. Rhonda Matters, clinical psychologist, presented the review of mental health and additions services and supports in Prince Edward Island at the Murchison Centre Friday.
Specialist appointed to develop long-term strategy for mental health and addictions
The P.E.I. government will spend $1.2 million in new initiatives to deal with prescription drug addiction in the province and has appointed a specialist come up with a long-term strategy to improve mental health and addictions services.
Health Minister Doug Currie told a packed room of stakeholders and media Friday he recognizes addictions in P.E.I. have become a major issue and that tangible improvements must be made.
“Government is responding with an immediate plan to address gaps that I’ve heard from Islanders,” he said.
“But most importantly we need a more extensive inter-disciplinary, cross-government, community-based strategy across the province. This can’t just be about treatment, there’s elements to this around intervention, education, enforcement.”
To develop this strategy, Currie has created a new position. Dr. Rhonda Matters will be the province’s new chief mental health and addictions officer.
She has been tasked to implement one of the key recommendations in the mental health and addictions review a report completed by the consulting firm MRSB also released Friday.
The review calls for the development of a cross-ministry committee and advisory council to map out a province-wide strategy.
Matters said she hopes to ultimately help provide better coordination and integration of services.
“Many of the reports talk about clients getting pieces of service but then having a hard time bridging or reaching to the next level, so I think that’s one of the things I want to see us do a better job of be able to put things together so it’s much easier for clients to get the services that they need.”
The 54-page MRSB report offers a broad overview of the challenges facing the system and the gaps in services and supports for Islanders suffering from mental illness and addictions.
However few concrete details about the actual state of these services are outlined.
It does identify excessive wait times, especially youth assessments. It also found a lack of consistency in what services are available across the Island and how they can be accessed.
“Limited access to timely services can result in individuals not getting help at all,” the report states.
“Providing an integrated continuum of services and supports is needed so that individuals only have to tell their story once and so they can move seamlessly from one service or support to another.”
This is what Matters hopes can be achieved with a long-term mental health and addictions strategy.
In the meantime, Currie announced some more immediate measures to tackle what many have called an epidemic of opiate addiction in Prince Edward Island.
A new 10-bed transition unit will be established at the provincial addictions facility in Mount Herbert. These beds will be for those who have completed detox but require additional support before returning home.
The province will also open a new centrally-located methadone clinic in an effort to reduce the existing waiting list for methadone treatment.
The drug Suboxone will also be covered by the province for patients aged 18 to 24 as an alternative to methadone. This drug was not previously covered except under specific circumstances.
Three new frontline staff will be hired to help people navigate through the system when seeking help with their addictions.
The health department has also committed two years of funding for a new youth addictions after-care project. TheReach Foundationwill offer community-based support for youth transitioning from detox and rehab back into their homes and communities.
Currie further announced an inspector will be hired to monitor the prescribing of opiates by Island doctors and that his department with work with the College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Medical Society of P.E.I. to increase education regarding the prescribing of highly addictive opiates.
Opposition health critic James Aylward said he was disappointed the province’s announcement did not include a cross-departmental plan. He believes education and justice should have been involved in Friday’s announcement.
He also believes a 24-hour youth addictions facility should have been pledged.
Currie said he’s not ruling out a youth facility in the future, but said he will wait to see whether it comes as a recommendation from the long-term strategy to be developed by Dr. Matters.
“Announcing today a new building doesn’t get me what I need. Ten beds that we can put youth in for post-detox and after care and rehab is my priority.”