By Robin MacLennan
Ontario Construction News editor
Ensuring Naloxone kits are available on all construction job sites is a good first step to tackling the opioid crisis that is having a devastating effect on the industry, says Phil Gillies, executive director at the Ontario Construction Consortium (OCC).
“We don’t believe most overdoses are occurring on the job, but if the kits are available for workers to take home with them – that’s where more of the benefit is,” Gillies told Ontario Construction News.
Ontario’s labour minister announced on Tuesday that upcoming legislation would require high-risk workplaces including all construction sites to carry Naloxone kits soon.
Naloxone is a medication that can save a life, temporarily reversing the effects of an opioid overdose giving time for medical help to arrive.
“This will mean thousands of employers in all industries will have kits on site. This is about saving lives. We have to be ambitious about fighting this epidemic,” Minister McNaughton said at a press conference Tuesday morning.
According to Statistics Canada, about 2,500 people died from opioid overdoses between March 2020 and January 2021 across Ontario. Of those who were employed, 30 per cent were construction workers.
“The 30 per cent number is alarming,” Gillies said. “No other category of employment even comes close.”
The OCC has been leading the industry looking for ways to reduce the number of construction workers battling addictions.
TheOtherPandemic.ca campaign was launched a year ago, when statistics from the Centres for Disease Control in the US showed how construction worksites were affected at rates much higher than other industries.
Last May 19, a study – Changing Circumstances Surrounding Opioid Related Deaths – by St. Michael’s Hospital and the Ontario Coroner’s Office confirmed Ontario’s troubling situation, finding 2,426 Ontarians died of opioid overdoses in 2020, up from 1,517 in 2019 — an increase of 60 per cent.
Why is it happening?
“Construction is tough, physical work,” Gillies said. “Workers get injured and go to the doctor. The doctor prescribes pain meds which are usually opioids. Some of the workers get addicted but the real problem begins when the doctor cuts off their prescriptions.
“Then some of the affected people go to the street to buy drugs – which is often fentanyl. And fentanyl in any excess quantity is deadly.”
Mandating Naloxone kits for all construction sites is a good start, and Gillies says the following steps are also required:
- Construction companies and unions need to step up their education and counselling programs to inform all workers of the dangers inherent in using street drugs.
- Governments need to increase addiction and mental health counselling services to meet this unprecedented demand. More than 1,500 Ontarians died of overdoses in 2019. One year later, into the covid pandemic – the number of overdose deaths went up to 2,500.
- Mental health and addiction programs must be made easier to access across the province.