‘The Other Pandemic’: OCC campaign targets construction’s opioid crisis

Daily Commercial News - May 31, 2021

TORONTO—Due to an alarming increase in drug overdose deaths in Ontario and its disproportionate impact on the construction workforce, the Ontario Construction Consortium (OCC) has launched a campaign called The Other Pandemic to raise awareness about the opioid drug overdose crisis.

A new report by the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network, the office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario and Public Health Ontario, released on May 19, shows that 2,500 Ontarians died of drug overdoses in 2020, up from 1,500 in 2019, which is an increase of 60 per cent.

Of the victims who were employed, 30 per cent were construction workers – by a wide margin the industry most impacted, states an OCC release. 

At least 57 construction workers died of overdoses in Ontario last year.

The OCC launched the public information campaign May 31 with the website urging construction workers to take steps to safeguard their health and safety.

The campaign is also supported by the Interior Systems Contractors Association, the Carpenters’ Union District Council of Ontario and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

The campaign offers the following tips:

– Do not use hard drugs alone. Use in the company of another individual with a Naloxone kit close at hand or go to a supervised injection site.

– All construction workers should get vaccinated against COVID-19 as this advice will bring the worker into close company with other people.

– Unions and contractors must step up training and education regarding drug use and its possible consequences.

– Governments need to increase addiction treatment and counselling services to meet this unprecedented challenge.

– Workers wrestling with addiction should seek help.

“This situation is alarming,” said OCC Phil Gillies in a statement.

“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 per cent 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.

“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.”