Madam Chair, the opioid overdose crisis in Canada is a public health crisis of the highest priority. Our government is committed to taking an evidence-based, comprehensive public health approach to save lives, reduce harms and provide treatment and other support to people who use drugs.
We are taking action through the Canadian drugs and substances strategy, the federal government's approach to drug and substance use, which was first announced in December 2016. The Canadian drugs and substances strategy reflects a health focused approach to drug policy, is grounded in evidence-based decision-making and includes harm reduction as a key pillar, alongside prevention, treatment and enforcement.
Tonight, my comments will highlight some of the evidence-based harm reduction measures we are taking under the strategy to address the opioid crisis. In particular, I will outline the importance of supervised consumption sites as evidence-based interventions and key components of our emergency response. Finally, I will highlight a number of other innovative approaches that have been undertaken to help reduce harms from problematic opioid use in Canada.
There is a growing consensus in Canada that problematic substance use is a health issue that requires a public health response. As such, the Canadian drugs and substances strategy is a comprehensive, collaborative and compassionate approach to drug policy and uses a public health lens when addressing substance use issues. Harm reduction aims to improve the health and well-being of people who use drugs, while at the same time helping them to make connections with important health and social services, including treatment providers.
In addition to existing funding, in budget 2017, our government announced an additional investment of $100 million over five years and $22.7 million ongoing to support the Canadian drugs and substances strategy. That includes $30 million over five years for the harm reduction fund for community based initiatives to support needle exchange and other critical evidence-based harm reduction measures to help reduce rates of hepatitis C and HIV from sharing of drug use equipment.
I would now like to move specifically to our government's support for supervised consumption sites under the Canadian drugs and substances strategy.
In May 2017, the federal government streamlined the application process to establish supervised consumption sites to help support their establishment in the communities they were needed in. As of early December 2018, there are 28 operating supervised consumption sites across the country, working day in and day out to help save lives.
International and Canadian evidence has shown that supervised consumption sites are an effective harm reduction measure. When properly established and maintained, these sites have health and social benefits for individuals and the community at large, without discernible negative impacts on public health or safety.
Supervised consumption sites reduce the transmission of communicable diseases, decrease infections, reduce emergency room use and hospital admissions related to injection drug use and decrease overdose deaths. In addition, supervised consumption sites provide access to other health and social services for people who use drugs, including opportunities to pursue drug treatment programs for those who are ready.
Data reported to Health Canada also shows that over the last 18 months supervised consumption sites in Canada have had over 125,000 visits and over 1,100 reported overdoses on site without a single death. In addition, these sites distributed over 2,600 naloxone kits, helping to get this life-saving medication into the hands of the people who needed it.
Cost-benefit studies demonstrate that by reducing behaviours like needle sharing and by preventing overdose deaths, supervised consumption sites result in savings to the health care system that far outweigh the costs of their operation.
Recognizing the need for rapid access to front-line services, the federal government has also facilitated the establishment of temporary overdose prevention sites. Overdose prevention sites provide short-term harm reduction services and operate on the basis of a class exemption provided by the federal government under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and are authorized to address an urgent public health need related to drug overdoses.
We also know that while harm reduction measures are vital, a number of other critical interventions are required. For example, a range of evidence-based treatment options need to be easily and readily accessible for those who are ready to seek treatment services.
In terms of treatment for problematic substance use, our government has committed $150 million for an emergency treatment fund to help improve the availability of treatment options in Canada. In addition, our government has made a number of investments in recent federal budgets to support expanded mental health and drug treatment services in first nations and Inuit communities, including $200 million over five years and $40 million ongoing provided in budget 2018.
Our government is also committed to exploring new and innovative approaches to address the opioid crisis to help reduce harms from problematic substance use. We continue to lose lives to drug overdoses every day and we need to explore new and promising approaches.
That is why in November 2017, Canada began allowing drug checking services to be performed at supervised consumption sites that wished to offer that service. Drug checking allows people who use drugs to make informed choices by having additional information on what may be in their drugs, including the presence of highly toxic substances like fentanyl that are driving the overdose crisis we are currently seeing in Canada.
We have made naloxone, a drug used to temporarily reverse an opioid overdose, available without prescription in Canada. We have passed the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act that encourages people to seek help in the event of an overdose by providing some legal protection for those who experience or witness an overdose.
Another key component to harm reduction is addressing stigma toward people who use drugs. For people who use substances, stigma can have many negative effects, including feelings of isolation and helplessness; discriminatory treatment by society; and the creation of barriers to accessing quality health care or social services that other Canadians enjoy freely. Our government is committed to reducing stigma toward people who use drugs and will be rolling out a campaign in early 2019 to help inform the public about stigma and what people can do to help reduce it.
Our government remains committed to doing everything it can to reduce overdoses and to save lives. To do this, we will continue to work closely with provincial and territorial counterparts, with people with lived and living experience with drug use and other stakeholders to help ensure that evidence-based harm reduction services are available for Canadians that want them and need them.
The evidence is clear that harm reduction works to help protect people who use drugs from overdose deaths, improve their health and well-being and connect them to other important services like treatment, housing, training and other important social supports. There is no trade-off between harm reduction and other interventions like treatment or prevention. They work best when they work together in a combined way.
Our government is committed to addressing this crisis in a way that is collaborative, comprehensive, compassionate and evidence-based.