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Opioid overdose hits construction workforce in Ontario

Toronto, June 3: As they called it another pandemic for the construction workers, the Ontario Construction Consortium (OCC) has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the opioid drug overdose crisis, since their death numbers have climbed dramatically and they are 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%. Among them, 30% are construction workers with a wide margin of the industry impacted. This report has been released on May 19 jointly by the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN), Chief Coroner for Ontario and Public Health Ontario.

‘This situation is alarming. 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,’ said OCC Executive Director Phil Gillies.

The OCC was looking into this situation in early 2021 as the US data from the Centres for Disease Control came out months ago indicating the construction workers were most at risk. Similarly, there to believe the situation was no different in Canada.

“Now we have this tragic situation confirmed in Canada. This crisis is very real in our country. 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,” further added by Gilles.

The OCC has launched a public information campaign on May 31 to raise public awareness of this pandemic at the website, theotherpandemic.ca, which urges construction workers to take steps to safeguard their health and safety.

The campaign includes an advertorial in the daily newspapers, several public service announcement videos and a radio commercial. The OCC video includes comments by addiction health care experts and from Toronto Mayor John Tory.

Besides, the OCC campaign urges for not using the hard drugs alone, get vaccinated against COVID-19, facilitate training and education, governments to increase addiction treatment and counselling services for those seeking help.

This 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.

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