An announcement of increased substance use and mental health supports for Vernon drew a large crowd of dignitaries at the Health Unit Monday morning. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

An announcement of increased substance use and mental health supports for Vernon drew a large crowd of dignitaries at the Health Unit Monday morning. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

Substance-use services, mental health support increased in Okanagan

19 full-time positions added, youth support, counselling, expansion of other services

Rachel Haskett knows all too well how difficult it can be to navigate the health system and access substance use support.

The Vernon resident saw drug addiction steal her life from her, leaving her homeless and feeling helpless.

But what was toughest, was when she sought help, it was almost impossible for her to stay clean due to a lack of support.

“I grew up in the city and when I returned from a treatment center I couldn’t find the services to help me in my recovery,” Haskett told a crowd at the Vernon Health Unit Monday, March 14.

Now a peer support worker with Interior Health, Haskett joined officials in the announcement of more mental health and substance-use services coming to her community.

The province will add four new services and expand four others, as well as recruit 19 full-time equivalent workers to provide substance use and mental health supports in Vernon and nearby communities. Recruitment for these new and expanded programs is underway, with some services expected to be available as early as April.

“Services being announced today will increase awareness, reduce stigma, help people access supports to get off and stay off drugs,” said Haskett, who now dedicates her life to helping people do exactly that. “You need access to different services and support to incorporate into your daily life.”

And it’s not just those addicted to drugs who are being helped. Those with mental health issues such as schizophrenia and eating disorders will benefit from added support.

“We know there’s been a gap in the system for people to get local access for eating disorders,” Interior Health president and CEO Susan Brown said.“The services announced today will help build a well-connected, safe, and person-centred network of treatment and support for people with problematic substance use.”

Young people aged 12-to-24 with significant substance use concerns and concurrent disorders who face challenges accessing health or social services will have the support of a new interdisciplinary intensive case management team.

Additionally, substance-use counselling services will be available for the same age group along with their families, and young adults aged 18-to-24 who have complex substance use needs will have access to individual, group and family substance use day treatment programs.

“People throughout the North Okanagan will benefit from this major expansion of mental health and substance-use services in Vernon,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Building mental health and substance use care in every B.C. community is our government’s commitment, because this system of care did not exist five years ago.”

Another newly introduced service in Vernon provides a priority response to young people aged 12-to-24 who have recently had an opioid overdose or are at high risk for drug poisoning. Youth Substance Use Connections connects them to available community services, such as medication-assisted treatment.

“For people in the North Okanagan who are struggling and in crisis, the addition of these substance use services will make a big difference in their lives,” said Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu, a former nurse. “These are the services our community needs to transform mental health and substance-use care for children, youth, young adults and their families.”

For more information on the Vernon downtown mental health and substance use centre, visit https://www.interiorhealth.ca/locations/vernon-downtown-mental-health-substance-use, and more information on A Pathway to Hope can be found at https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/BCMentalHealthRoadmap_2019.pdf.

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