March 21, 2005
(Health and Community Services)

Government enhances support for mental health and addictions

The Williams government is acting on its commitment to remove the barriers to good health and will enhance the necessary supports for individuals suffering with mental illness and addictions, Health and Community Services Minister John Ottenheimer and Finance Minister Loyola Sullivan announced today.

"Mental health and addictions services must be comprehensive, compassionate and responsive," said Minister Ottenheimer. "We want to build a system where those suffering from addictions or persistent mental illness can seek the help they need to have the best quality of life possible."

Budget 2005 furthers statements made in the Throne Speech on the development of a provincial mental health and addictions strategy, unveiling a $3.4 million investment to strengthen resources to assist persons struggling with mental illness and addictions, with particular emphasis on substance abuse and gambling.

OxyContin and Prescription Drug Abuse
Government recognizes that the misuse of all prescription drugs can have lasting and devastating effects on individuals� lives, as well as their families. Building on government�s initial response to the OxyContin Task Force report, $1 million will be devoted to the implementation of key recommendations of the Task Force including:

  • Establish a methadone maintenance program to treat clients suffering from opiate addictions in St. John's. Treatment will be offered through the Recovery Centre in Pleasantville;
  • Implement an approved methadone-training program for any physician who requests and obtains a methadone licence in the province;
  • Enhance detox services at the Recovery Centre to include a medical component;
  • Proceed with an adolescent day treatment program at the Recovery Centre in Pleasantville;
  • Open four detoxification beds at the Humberwood Treatment program in Corner Brook;
  • Hire more addictions counsellors to enhance services for youth across the province; and
  • Support the Aids Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador to deliver a needle exchange program for the St. John's area.

In addition to the on-going $1 million commitment, a $740,000 capital investment will be made on one-time renovation costs, funded through the department�s capital budget.

Government will also proceed with changes to the Medical Act, consistent with those recommended by the OxyContin Task Force, tabling amendments this spring.

"All of us � government, professionals, communities, industry and families need to continue to work to address the significant health and social impacts of problematic substance abuse and addictions," said Minister Ottenheimer. "Together we will be successful."

These new initiatives will complement steps already taken such as the implementation of tamper-resistant prescription pads, continuing education for health professionals and youth, setting provincial guidelines for methadone treatment and the recruitment of a provincial addictions consultant.

Mental Health
As our mental health consumers continue to live meaningful lives in the community, government is dedicated to providing them the resources they need to continue to access services which enable them to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Building on the $1 million investment made in 2004-05, government is committing a further $1 million to mental health initiatives in Budget 2005 for important services such as:

  • More case managers to work longer term with clients and families to help people with mental illness re-integrate into their communities;
  • Expand the existing home support demonstration project for 25 additional clients, shifting more specialized care and treatment services to the community; and
  • Crisis response intervention such as transportation, training for ambulance drivers and constant observation while in an emergency room situation.

With these new resources, government is living up to its commitment to provide better access for those suffering with mental illness. These initiatives complement the recommendations of the Luther Report and establish a solid base for quality and accessible programming for the severely mentally ill.

"Mental health is as important as physical health," Minister Ottenheimer added. "This investment will break down the barriers between people with mental illness and the services they need. This will lead to healthier people and healthier communities."

In light of serious issues facing families surrounding gambling addictions in our province, government is taking strong action in Budget 2005 to reduce its harmful effects.

Effective immediately, the number of video lottery terminals (VLTs) in the province is frozen at the current number (2,687). Furthermore, beginning next year, a five-year VLT reduction plan will begin which will see the number of machines in the province reduced by approximately 15 per cent. Government will also seek innovative ways to program VLTs to deter misuse of these machines.

"Addressing the effect of gambling addictions will take a comprehensive approach, we know it is not enough to simply reduce the number of machines," said Minister Sullivan. "Our VLT strategy has two key elements. First, we will reduce the number of VLTs in the province, along with reducing the accessibility to machines and working to find ways to make them less attractive to problem gamblers. Second, we want to ensure that those who need counselling and addiction services have access, and as such, we will increase accessibility to the necessary support services."

Government will also direct $740,000 in new funding to enhance services for gambling addictions in our province, with a focus on the following areas:

  • Training for primary care physicians and other providers to screen and identify problem gambling;
  • Enhance public awareness with a campaign to inform individuals of the risks of gambling;
  • Create a provincial toll-free gambling counselling line based at Humberwood Treatment Centre in Corner Brook to reach more individuals in need;
  • Hire five new addictions counsellors;
  • Increase the capacity of self-help and community groups to work with the formal system to address the issues of gambling in the community;
  • Competency-based training in gambling addictions for all addictions staff; and
  • Complete a prevalence study, as previously announced, to examine the incidence of gambling and problem gambling in our province.

In keeping with the goal to improve access to services, these investments are supported through the monies of the 2004 FMM Health Accord. Investments in addictions further government�s ongoing financial commitment of $4.1 million each year. This year�s funding represents a 32 per cent increase for addictions services.

Media contact:
Carolyn Chaplin, Health and Community Services, (709) 729-1377, 682-5093
Diane Keough, Finance, (709) 729-6830, 685-4401

VLT action plan

Introduced in 1991, there are currently 2,687 video lottery terminals (VLTs) throughout the province, the highest per capita number of terminals in Canada. All VLTs are owned and installed by the Atlantic Lottery Corporation. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the terminals are permitted to be located only on premises licensed to sell alcohol.

For a segment of the population, VLTs are highly addictive, and these addictions have led to a variety of social problems. Government has designed a VLT Action Plan to address these concerns. The plan has two key components: first, government will reduce the number of machines and accessibility to them; and second, government will enhance counseling and addiction services for those who need it.

Effective immediately, the number of VLTs in the province is frozen at the current number. Furthermore, beginning in 2006, a five-year VLT reduction plan will see the number of machines reduced by approximately 15 per cent to 2,280.

Currently, if a lounge operator has more than one bar, and therefore more than one liquor licence, each licence is treated as a separate site. There are as many as 20 machines in some multi-site locations. Government will amend the Video Lottery Regulations to reflect the original policy intent that not more that five VLTs are permitted per establishment. To ensure a manageable transition for operations which have more than the permitted amount, the number of VLTs will be reduced over a five-year period. There are only 67 establishments which have in excess of five terminals.

Government will ask the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) to conduct a review of responsible gaming features so as to implement enhanced measures to discourage or eliminate prolonged play, and to make players more aware of the risks of excessive play.

New funding will be directed to enhance services for gambling addictions in our province, including: training of primary health care teams, additional addictions counselors with experience in family intervention, increased public awareness to support better identification and avoidance of problem gambling, and shared care arrangements for family physicians who will work with psychiatrists to address the needs of those with gambling addictions.

2005 03 21                      2:55 p.m.

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