Thousands more Ontario workplaces will soon be expected to stock naloxone kits in case of an employee overdose, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton says.
People from all demographics are vulnerable to opioid addiction, he said.
“My mission is really to raise awareness around the opioid crisis and also to end the stigma,” McNaughton added. “We need people coming forward to talk about their addictions and mental health issues. At the end of the day, this is about saving lives.”
McNaughton’s Working for Workers legislation, which was introduced last week, would, if passed, make a number of changes, including safeguarding the day jobs of military reservists and forcing large employers to disclose their electronic monitoring of staff.
One key action would be to reduce the risk of workplace opioid deaths by mandating a naloxone kit where overdoses are a potential hazard, the bill says.
McNaughton said his goal is to have the kits in place “within months.”
If an employee acknowledges an addiction issue, for instance, the employer would need to keep a naloxone kit onsite and train staff to use it, he said.
Places like bars, nightclubs, and construction sites would also be required to have a kit, he said.
“I know it’s a prevalent issue in the (construction) industry,” McNaughton said. “A lot of it is because workers get injured on the job and the doctor prescribes medication, and they get addicted.”
Many employers have already stocked kits and have staff trained to use them, but this would expand the number of workplaces with overdose protection in place by the thousands, he said.
Jennifer Chambers, executive director of Empowerment Council — an independent patient advocacy organization funded by CAMH — said in an email that some types of work have more opioid users.
“Construction, for example, can cause a lot of body pain, and it can be difficult to work through it,” Chambers said. “Naloxone alone is not an adequate response, although it is better than not responding to the risk at all. There needs to be many more harm reduction services resourced.”
The Ontario Construction Consortium (OCC), in response to McNaughton’s announcement, said the organization and the Carpenters’ Union have been campaigning for a year to bring attention to the “Other Pandemic.”
“It is aimed at the alarming rate of opioid overdose deaths occurring in the construction industry workforce,” the OCC newsletter said. “A study released by St Michael’s Hospital and the Ontario Coroner’s Office confirmed that in 2021, close to one-third of Ontarians, who died of an overdose (and) were employed at the time of their death, were construction workers.”