Opioid addiction is a serious problem in southern Alberta, but the situation has surpassed a crisis level due in large part to the stress and unemployment brought about by the pandemic.
A recent study by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) showed the devastating impact the pandemic is having on the mental health of Canadians and consequently opioid abuse and overdose deaths are increasing dramatically.
According to the CMHA about 40% of Canadians said their mental health has deteriorated since the beginning of the pandemic. In addition, 10% said they have had suicidal thoughts and 17% of respondents said they have increased substance use a means to cope.
In Alberta specifically, opioid overdose deaths and suicides tripled from January to July last year.
This is an issue we must take seriously, which is why I was tasked with co-chairing a Conservative Opioid Crisis Working Group along with my colleague Todd Doherty, Member of Parliament Cariboo—Prince George. Our aim is to look at the crisis holistically and with compassion. We are exploring policies to save lives and break the cycle of misery and personal tragedy.
Numerous colleagues answered our call to help achieve our goal. We are gathering data, insight and proposals on what needs to be done to address mental health and addictions. We need to know what resources are available and where the gaps exist within the current system.
Prevention, enforcement, harm reduction, intervention and recovery all play pivotal roles in finding a solution. We must not turn our backs to any idea just because it does not fit our political narrative or goes against pre-conceived notions. Only by working together will we overcome the stigma associated with substance use and addiction.
We have had early success with the House of Commons unanimously passing a motion in December to establish the 9-8-8 suicide hotline in Canada, an initiative spearheaded by Mr. Doherty.
Clearly, there is more to be done. On the Health Committee we recently studied the mental health impacts of the COVID pandemic. I invited two Foothills business owners to appear at committee and share how COVID has impacted their mental health from a business owner’s perspective.
It was a sobering presentation as they outlined the depression and anxiety they face, not only for themselves, but also the pressure of supporting their employees and their families.
Their presentations at committee, coupled with the CMHA report and the Alberta overdose statistics show how grave the situation has become.
Over the past several weeks we’ve heard first-hand the effects this crisis has had on communities, our colleagues, families, friends and neighbours.
Working together the hope is to build a framework to get the dealers off the streets and offer addicts a tangible pathway to successful recovery.
The effects of the pandemic on the mental health of Canadians are real and will be long-lasting. Finding a solution to the mental health and opioid crisis in Canada simply cannot wait any longer.
If you need help call: Canada Suicide Prevention Service: Phone 1-833-456-4566 or Text 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) crisisservicescanada.ca
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868, Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca
If you are worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide please talk to them and watch for these warning signs: suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, purposelessness, anxiety, withdrawal, anger, recklessness and mood changes.