The federal Liberal caucus has recently released 39 resolutions for consideration at the upcoming Liberal Convention in Halifax in April. Among the resolutions are two that relate specifically to mental health and addiction. First, the Liberal MPs are calling for the decriminalization of possession and consumption of all illicit substances in Canada. Second, that mental health services are included in the Canada Health Act and Medicare.
Decriminalization of illicit substances
The call for decriminalization points to Portugal’s success with expanding treatment and harm reduction services in conjunction with eliminating criminal penalties for low level possession and consumption of illicit drugs. Portugal implemented these changes in 2001 which has given a large enough timeline to show success or failure. Since 2001 deaths from drug overdose, as well as underage use have decreased which the number of people in treatment has increased. They have also seen a drop of 60% in people arrested and seen in court. It is easy to see how the savings in the criminal system could be transferred over to the health sector. The rising overdose deaths and categorical “epidemic” that Canada is experiencing is evidence enough to warrant a change. The data from Portugal also shows that this shift has longevity. Currently we are having those with substance use issues incarcerated with no rehabilitation so the cycle repeats itself. Portugal’s emphasis on health means those using substances are offered treatment as soon as they are found in possession, as opposed to Canada’s hard to navigate and access treatment system.
Mental health care to join Medicare
The inclusion of mental health services in both Medicare and the Canada Health Act is something that makes so much sense it’s surprising its not already a reality. Many Canadians have a hard time finding affordable mental health care. Separating mental from physical health is an outdated ideology that is being shown to be detrimental to a person’s overall health and wellbeing. The Liberal caucus is proposing to “amend the Canada Health Act and develop a national framework to ensure the inclusion of mental health services within Medicare”. By comparison, BC’s NDP government has created a whole new ministry for mental health instead of expanding the existing ministry of health. If this resolution is accepted at the April convention, it will be interesting to see which of this ideology’s proves successful; integration or segregation of services.
April’s convention in Halifax is the first since the Liberal party’s new membership policy. Anyone can register for free to be a party Liberal and take part in policy development, conventions, and vote. Registration is currently open for anyone looking to attend the convention.