Substance Use and Addictions Program providing $10M to support Indigenous communities

Injection drug equipment. File photo courtesy of Lawson Health Research Institute.

Health Canada will provide nearly $10 million for 16 projects across the country as part of the Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP), which will focus on prevention, harm reduction, and holistic care in Indigenous communities.

Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of mental health and addictions and associate minister of health, made the announcement Friday at Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, an organization the government will partner with to facilitate SUAP.

Bennett explained that Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by health issues, particularly mental illness, substance abuse, and addiction. She called for Canadians to exercise compassion and to better understand the traumatic effects of colonization.

“When you see someone that is intoxicated and ask ‘what’s the matter with them?’ You have to know you’re asking the wrong question,” said Bennett. “The question is ‘what happened to them?’”

SUAP will enable organizations such as Native Child and Family Services to deliver health services that are developed by and for Indigenous communities. The plan is to focus on holistic well-being – physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health – as well as harm reduction.

Harm reduction has been a controversial topic in the discussion of substance use and addiction. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, harm reduction is a non-judgmental, humane approach that “seeks to reduce the health and social harms associated with addiction and substance use, without necessarily requiring people who use substances from abstaining or stopping.” Critics of this method argue that it supports and encourages illicit substance use.

“Recently we’ve been somewhat appalled by the irresponsible dissemination of completely untrue information about harm reduction and safer supply amidst this crisis,” Bennett said. “It is imperative that we work to replace judgment and disdain with compassion and respect.”

According to Bennett, providing resources through SUAP is another step towards the country’s reconciliation with Indigenous people.