Report finds construction sector hit hardest by spike in opioid overdose deaths, spurring new campaign

Durham Radio News - June 1, 2021

The construction sector is feeling the effects of a sharp rise in drug overdose deaths since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

A new report by the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network, the office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario and Public Health Ontario shows 2,500 people across Ontario died from drug overdoses in 2020. That’s a 60 per cent increase over 2019, when 1,500 people died.

The report also found of the victims who were employed, 30 per cent were construction workers, making it the most-impacted industry.

“This situation is alarming,” said Ontario Construction Consortium Phil Gillies. “Construction workers are dying from drug overdoses, a crisis largely driven by the widespread street distribution of the highly-addictive opioid fentanyl. And the 60% increase in deaths in 2020 has to be linked to the shutdowns and isolation imposed by the COVID pandemic. The increase in addiction and mental health issues that has accompanied the pandemic is impacting the construction workforce in a dramatic and tragic fashion.”

The report found at least 57 construction workers in Ontario died from overdoses last year.

The Ontario Construction Consortium has now launched a public information campaign to raise awareness about the issue, offer tips for safe drug use and encourage governments to step up and increase additiction treatment and counselling services.

“We know that urging drug users not to use in isolation goes against most advice directed at the general population re: the COVID pandemic. There the messaging is about staying away from other unrelated people,” added Gillies. “But using hard drugs alone is killing people. What we are recommending here will save lives.”