Skip to main content

Province lays out plan for mental health therapists, social navigators to help curb addictions crisis

The province has unveiled a new strategy in conjunction with the Edmonton Police Service to help address the addictions crisis.

As part of its latest, Alberta will provide $17 million over three years to help people struggling with addiction to get the support they need.

Under the new program, anyone detained on a public intoxication charge in Edmonton will be assessed at a new Integrated Care Centre (ICC) and offered support from a social navigator, who will help the person with the individual challenges they're facing, including finding treatment or housing supports.

The former holding cells at EPS Downtown Division have been repurposed into the ICC, which opened on March 29.

The province says the location was chosen because of its proximity to Chinatown and the downtown core.

The ICC can accommodate up to 17 people at a time.

"The subjects that are being put in that space would otherwise be in a holding cell. So we're changing it into a health response," EPS Deputy Chief Devin Laforce told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday. "We're making sure that once they come down from their high or get sober so that they're in less of an altered state that we have supports and mechanisms to kind of meet them where they’re at."

"The next morning they’ll also be contacted and given a social navigator who can now start working on their unmet needs, so whether it be housing, whether it be long-term detox or what that will look like," said Enyinnah Okere of the EPS’ Community Safety and Well-being Bureau.

"Now they have a smooth handoff to an actual practitioner who is able to now transition them to kind of the social services that they need."

The money will also be used to hire 12 new social navigators and two team leads to work with Police and Crisis Teams (PACT) and Human-centred Engagement and Liaison Partnership (HELP) teams in the field, and eight mental health therapists to support the 911 dispatch centre in Edmonton and provide clinical advice over the phone to officers in the field.

Two full-time health-care practitioners, two paramedics, two recovery coaches, eight social navigators, and 12 community safety officers will also be hired to work out of downtown division.

"Right now police officers have a very limited tool box or set of pathways for someone that they’re dealing with," Laforce said. "But now dealing with a social navigator, as well as now having access to mental health workers, it opens up a whole bunch of avenues for where we can get that person longer term, more effective help."

The breakdown for the funding is as follows:

  • $3.5 million for 12 new social navigator positions and two team leads, which will double the number of HELP teams in Edmonton
  • $2 million for eight new social navigator positions to support the EPS Divergence and Desistance Branch
  • $2.4 million for eight mental health therapists to support Edmonton’s 911 Dispatch centre and EPS officers over the phone with clinical expertise
  • $6.3 million to add the following health professionals:
  • two full-time health-care practitioners, two paramedics, two recovery coaches and 12 community safety officers at EPS Downtown Division
  • two paramedics at EPS Northwest Division
  • $2 million for equipment, training, administrative and other related costs
  • $858,000 in one-time capital funding for six new HELP team vehicles and facility upgrades

The new resources will be available seven days a week, while previously HELP team supports were only available Monday to Friday.

According to the EPS, the HELP teams divert at least one person from the justice system every day, with 889 referrals in 2021, 2,641 in 2022, and 664 so far in 2023.

The province says making addictions treatment available for free to anyone in the province is a priority.

"We want to make sure that no matter who you are, no matter your socio economic place in society or anything like that, you have the opportunity to enter into treatment and recovery," said Nicholas Milliken, minister of mental health and addiction.

Milliken was also asked about a report by the Globe and Mail that the government is considering enacting a law that would force people with severe drug addictions into treatment without their consent.

The Compassionate Intervention Act would be the first involuntary treatment law in Canada to target addiction.

The Globe says this legislation would give police, as well as the family or legal guardian of drug users, sweeping rights to refer adults and youth to involuntary treatment if they pose risks to themselves or others.

Milliken said no decisions have been made on such a law at this time.

"My ministry is looking at all potential options on the table. I will, however, say that there have been no specific decisions made with regards to this respect," Milliken said. "If I’ve been tasked to look at all potential options, then of course it would be my due diligence to at least take a look at every possible avenue."

Milliken said all treatment options under Wednesday's announcement are voluntary.

With files from CTV News Calgary's Nicole Di Donato. Top Stories

Stay Connected