WOODSTOCK (GNB) – The provincial government will launch a five-year pilot project starting next fall in several communities to help prevent substance use among young people.

“We need to address high rates of substance use among our youth,” said Health Minister Dorothy Shephard. “This is an important project that will allow each participating community to develop a unique response based on its specific challenges and needs.”

Shephard said the project will involve collaboration between experts in preventing substance use, community stakeholders, health promotion partners, volunteers, youth, members of school communities, and researchers and policymakers. These teams will identify core issues relating to youth substance use in their community, develop solutions and put a community-led action plan in place.

The prevention model will help explore ways to address the factors that contribute to youth substance use, including the availability and marketing of substances, socioeconomic factors, the school and community environments, family relationships and peer influences.

Communities selected to participate in the pilot project will be announced next year.

Shephard was in Woodstock to speak about the new provincial health plan, Stabilizing Health Care: An Urgent Call to Action. She said the pilot project is one of several initiatives that will provide improved access to addiction and mental health services.

“Fifty-one per cent of New Brunswickers have indicated they are at risk of experiencing negative mental health issues due to social isolation, stress and economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Shephard. “We are taking action now to address those issues and ensure residents have better access to the addiction and mental health services they need.”

As part of the health plan, Shephard said an overdose prevention site has already been identified at ENSEMBLE’s existing location in Moncton and is expected to be in operation by the end of the month. In addition, walk-in services will be introduced at the province’s 14 addiction and mental health clinics within the next year.

By 2023, she said additional beds will be available in Campbellton for people seeking treatment for mental illness and substance abuse disorder; the mobile crisis unit will be expanded to further support people experiencing an addiction or mental health crisis; and the Bridge the gApp addiction and mental health website will be further promoted to increase utilization rates by 20 per cent and provide a timely alternative to traditional services.

Other key initiatives to be accomplished over the course of the next two years to address access to addiction and mental health services include:

  • launching a provincial 24/7 addiction and mental health crisis phone service;
  • providing young people with complex needs who live in foster homes and group homes access to a clinical consultation team; and
  • adding mental health staff to emergency departments so people experiencing addiction or mental health crisis receive more timely support and co-ordinated follow-up appointments.

This week, the provincial government unveiled its new health plan, Stabilizing Health Care: An Urgent Call to Action. The plan outlines a path forward, intended to stabilize and rebuild New Brunswick’s health-care system to be more citizen-focused, accessible, accountable, inclusive and service-oriented.