Health professionals will soon be taking over the prescribing of medications and other care for mental health issues in Canada.
Under the new legislation, health professionals will be responsible for providing psychiatric-focused treatment to patients who need it, but they won’t be the ones administering the medications.
Instead, the new law gives the province and Health Canada the authority to prescribe psychiatric-based medications, and it will have the authority in prescribing psychiatric-specific medication for those who have serious mental health needs.
Health Canada will have power to prescribe medications such as lithium, tricyclic antidepressants and anti-depressants.
Health Minister Rona Ambrose says it will give the provinces greater power to control prescribing of psychiatric-related medications.
“We’re not going to have a situation where we’re prescribing a specific prescription, we’re going to be able to prescribe any psychiatric- related medication that is appropriate for a specific patient,” she said Thursday.
“I don’t want to see that situation where somebody gets a bad experience and they can’t get their medication.
I think that would be very dangerous.”
The new legislation comes as the country is on edge over the increasing number of suicides and homicides.
A study released Thursday by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that suicide rates among young people aged 15 to 24 were nearly twice those in the general population.
In Canada, the number of people committing suicide has doubled in the past decade, according to the Canadian Centre for Health Statistics.
A number of provinces are grappling with how to manage mental health problems, including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
In Manitoba, where more than a third of the province’s youth population lives, Health Minister Derek Fildebrandt said he will be consulting with the province about a range of initiatives.
Fildebrands department is also planning a national mental health strategy to focus on the need for mental-health support services, such as the use of crisis intervention teams, the use and management of medication for mental disorders, and support for families with young children.
Health experts say a significant portion of Canada’s suicide rate is related to mental health disorders and that suicide is an under-recognized cause of death among young Canadians.
The new bill gives health professionals the authority, along with the provinces, to prescribe certain psychiatric-oriented medications, but it does not give them power to make those decisions.
The bill would also provide greater power for health-care professionals to provide psychiatric-style care to patients in crisis, including those who are not taking prescribed medications, such for depression or anxiety.
The changes came as a result of a federal-provincial-territorial agreement to ease access to prescription medications, said FildeBrandt.
Under that agreement, Health Canada, Health Ontario and the provinces have agreed to work together to develop the prescription-monitoring system.
The federal government is also making significant investments in mental health care.
Under a plan unveiled in the last federal election, the Liberals promised $10 million to support the province of British Columbia to provide mental health services to all Canadians by 2020.
Health minister Rona Emmert says the Liberals will be announcing a number of other measures to improve mental health outcomes in the coming months.
“When we’re done with that, I think we’ll be in a position where we’ll see a very significant shift in how people who need help can access the services that they need to get better,” she told reporters in Ottawa.
Emmerst says the province will have control over how the system is set up and the funding will be provided by the federal government.
The provincial government has also been working to strengthen mental health in the province, by increasing the number and type of mental health supports available to those in crisis.
The NDP says it is concerned the bill does not go far enough in providing a more robust, cost-effective system for the health-provider-patient relationship.
“There’s a whole range of services that need to be provided, that have not been funded,” said NDP health critic David Christopherson.
“The fact that it hasn’t yet, in my view, shows how badly this bill needs to be amended.”
The federal Liberal government says it has spent $1.2 billion on mental health over the past four years, and is aiming to spend another $1 billion in the next three years.
“It’s a good bill,” Ambrose said Thursday after announcing the changes.
“This is an important step forward in building on our record of increasing the capacity of mental healthcare services and supporting our citizens and those in need.”
Health Canada has said the changes will allow it to “make the most informed and efficient decisions about the provision of mental- health services.”