Toronto recognizes the urgency of tackling substance use-related harms and mental health challenges among its residents. In a recent report, the city outlined a comprehensive strategy aimed at mitigating these issues and providing support services. The plan takes a holistic approach and covers a wide range of areas, including mental health promotion, substance use prevention, expanded access to services, community safety, housing, and mentally healthy workplaces.
Acknowledging the severity of the situation, Coun. Chris Moise, chair of Toronto’s Board of Health, emphasized the need for immediate action: “It’s all hands on deck. We are in a crisis situation and something needs to be done.”
To meet the rising demand for mental health and substance use support, the city plans to establish additional 24-hour respite centers. These centers will provide low-barrier crisis stabilization spaces, ensuring that individuals with mental health or substance use-related issues have access to evidence-based services, treatment, and wrap-around supports.
Susan Davis, executive director of Gerstein Crisis Centre, expressed the urgency of the situation, stating, “The situation out there right now is probably one of the worst times I’ve ever seen … in terms of accessing both mental health services and supports for substance use.”
In addition to expanding crisis response services, the strategy also aims to enhance coordination among first responders, hospitals, and relevant services. This coordination protocol will streamline the transfer of individuals experiencing mental health and substance use crises to the most appropriate care.
While the city has requested funding assistance from the provincial and federal governments, the total cost of the project remains uncertain. Despite facing a significant budget deficit, there is optimism that the necessary funding will be secured. Deputy Mayor Coun. Ausma Malik highlighted the importance of envisioning a Toronto free of mental health and substance use stigma, emphasizing the strategy’s aim to establish accessible healthcare, services, resources, and community spaces.
The report’s release comes during a drug toxicity crisis that Toronto is urgently addressing. Since 2015, almost 2,900 people have lost their lives due to opioid-related toxicity. Paramedics have noted an alarming increase in substance use-related emergency calls across the city, further emphasizing the need for immediate action.
Toronto’s comprehensive strategy will be reviewed by the Toronto Board of Health in an upcoming meeting. The city is committed to ensuring the well-being of its residents by addressing the pressing challenges of substance use and mental health.