The Ontario government announced $15 million in new funding on Wednesday to help those battling addiction to prescription drugs receive treatment.

Health Minister Deb Matthews said the funding will focus on pregnant women, mothers and those aboriginal communities who are addicted to opioids, such as the prescription painkiller OxyContin.

“That was an area that the expert working group said we had some very important work to do,” Matthews told reporters during a news conference Wednesday.

She said Ontario has the highest rate of prescription narcotic use in Canada, as the province’s rate is two to four times higher than any other province.

She added that the number of babies born addicted to opioids in Ontario is higher than the national average.

“These are troubling trends,” said Matthews.  

Of the $15 million in funding, $12 million will go towards opioid treatment programs for women, $2 million is earmarked to support aboriginal and First Nation initiatives to combat drug abuse and $1 million will support opioid monitoring in emergency rooms and outreach in high-risk communities.

Matthews noted that the province is already monitoring narcotic prescriptions electronically to flag any possible abuses of the drugs.

Earlier this year, the government delisted OxyContin from the Ontario Drug Benefit program and replaced it with a new formulation of the drug called OxyNEO, which is more difficult to crush and less likely to be abused through injecting or snorting.

During the announcement, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Kathleen Wynne called the rate of substance abuse in some aboriginal communities “alarming”.

She said the Chiefs of Ontario report that in some communities, 50 to 70 per cent of the population is struggling with substance abuse.

“That is a huge issue, but I think what we have to do is not be debilitated by despair and that’s what today is about,” said Wynne. “When I have visited First Nation communities there’s a lot of hope, there’s a lot of determination to get a handle on these issues.”