Toronto – As drug overdose deaths have climbed dramatically in Ontario, the construction industry workforce is being impacted more than any other sector of the economy.
A new report shows that 2,500 Ontarians died of drug overdoses in 2020, up from 1,500 in 2019. An increase of 60%. And of the victims who were employed, 30% were construction workers – by a wide margin the industry most impacted. The report by the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN), the office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario and Public Health Ontario was released on May 19th.
‘This situation is alarming’, says Ontario Construction Consortium (OCC) 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.’
OCC was looking into this situation early in 2021, as US data from the Centres for Disease Control came out months ago indicating the construction workers were most at risk in that country. There was reason to believe the situation was no different in Canada.
‘Now we have this tragic situation confirmed in Canada’, says Gillies. ‘This crisis is very real in Canada. The ODPRN report indicates that at least 57 construction workers died of overdoses in Ontario last year. And the situation continues to unfold. I know of one worker, a 28-year-old man, who died over the May long weekend.’
OCC is launching a public information campaign on May 31st to raise public awareness on this pandemic, TheOtherPandemic.ca , which will urge construction workers to take steps to safeguard their health and safety. The campaign will include an advertorial in the National Post and Toronto Sun, a public service announcement (psa) video and radio commercial. The OCC video includes comments by addiction health care experts and from Toronto Mayor John Tory.
The OCC campaign urges:
‘We know that urging drug users not to use in isolation goes against most advice directed at the general population re: the COVIC 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.’
The OCC campaign is supported by the Interior Systems Contractors Association, the Carpenters Union District Council of Ontario and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.
Dr Andrea Sereda of the London Intercommunity Health Centre and Nick Boyce of the Ontario Harm Reduction Network are both available for comment.