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Mental Health

Stigma, Fear Standing in the Way of Viable Mental Health Strategies

— March 14, 2024

Advocates for safer drug supply programs battle long-standing negative views of addiction.

More than ever before, viable and effective treatments are needed to treat those struggling with mental health conditions. This is particularly true after the rise in distress following the onset of the COVID pandemic, and it’s no secret that problems continue to affect a large number of people. The connection between mental health and substance abuse is also known to be strong, which substance use disorders increasing drastically as well. Unfortunately, even when effective treatments are known and available, they continue to face resistance due to stigma and a lack of knowledge, even among decision-makers.

The situation that exists in Canada regarding safer supply programs that could assist individuals struggling with addiction in moving away from their addiction challenges is a troubling sign. Rather than embracing viable treatments, there is pushback and resistance, making it harder for people to get the help they urgently need.

Looking at a few numbers related to addiction and overdoses across Canada highlight immediately how significant this problem is for people from coast to coast. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there are roughly 23 drug overdoses each day in the country as of 2023. In total, since 2016, more than 40,000 opioid-related deaths have occurred in Canada.

Because of the scale of the problem, once of the tactics that has been developed to combat the issue is a safer supply program that is designed to deliver pharmaceutical alternatives to high-risk users. Essentially, the idea is to supply those who are high-risk of overdose with a licensed alternative to the street drug they would be using otherwise. This way, the risk of overdose by using a drug that is tainted or mixed dangerously will have been significantly reduced.

Stigma, Fear Standing in the Way of Viable Mental Health Strategies
Photo by Alesia Kozik from Pexels

There is little debate that this approach can be viable for those who are a high-risk of an overdose. However, it is known that some of these prescribed alternative drugs are then being sold on the street, a practice known as diversion. If those who are being provided the pharmaceutical drugs aren’t taking them but are instead selling them to others to make a profit, the effect of the program as a whole may not be as positive as intended.

There isn’t a perfect solution to a problem this complex and complicated. Providing needed treatments to those who are at risk is an important step, but if it is backfiring and making the problem worse, that outcome needs to be considered and mitigated. Of course, there are also political motivations and perspectives that play a role in this kind of matter, so getting both sides of the legislation to agree on a path forward is always a challenging task.

Much work still remains to be done on the matter of providing individuals with mental health and substance abuse challenges with the help they need to get and stay on track. With more and more attention paid to mental health, there are plenty of opportunities for quality treatments – but officials and other decision-makers will need to allow those treatments to be utilized effectively.


Government of Canada highlights $144 million from Budget 2023 that would help address harms related to substance use across Canada

Mental health minister says ‘safer supply’ drug concerns rooted in ‘stigma and fear’

Government of Canada: Safer Supply

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