Saving Ontario Workers
The Ontario government recently announced proposed legislation to help fight the opioid crisis. The legislation would see Naloxone kits placed and available in high-risk workplaces – that is workplaces that have a high propensity for opioid use amongst workers. Failure to provide the kits will result in fines for the company and individuals of up to $1.5 million dollars. It may also result in preventable deaths.
Based on government numbers, nearly 2,500 workers died in the year between March 2020 and January 2021 of opioid-related causes. Of those unnecessary deaths, over 30% were in the construction industry with an increase seen in the entertainment (bars and restaurants) industry during this period.
What we’ve seen at the Canadian Centre for Addiction, is an increase across a number of industries that include construction, entertainment, media, mining, utilities, and management. This is also born out by a study by
Why are these high-risk industries?
While substance use occurs across a wide swath of industries, economic levels, and social spectrums, the above industries are overrepresented with opioid use due to their
- Associated stress
- Hours in the field/workplace and the isolation from “healthy” relationships
- Potential for physical injury
- Potential for mental injury (PTSD, trauma, etc.)
- Company culture
When all of these factors converge, you have a perfect storm for self-medicating from these issues.
Acknowledgment of real life
The Ontario government legislating naloxone kits is acknowledging real life. Acknowledging the increase in overdoses and deaths seen in actual workplaces. On-site naloxone will help save some lives, naloxone kits should be the last option to save a life. It is the option to save a life immediately from an overdose but what we need to aim for is those naloxone kits to grow dusty on the self from lack of use because we have provided the support prior to the last chance option. Naloxone doesn’t fix the root of the problem. It doesn’t stop the next naloxone emergency.
The increase in mental health issues, accelerated by the pandemic, coincides with the increase in substance use in general and in the workplace. We have seen a significant shift in the labor force over the last two years. Some industries are struggling to fill positions, emptied as people find other vocations due to furlough during the pandemic, which puts greater stress on those remaining. Companies are adjusting. Companies must adjust to stay competitive and that means changes in their environments, compensation, and views on what employees want and need. And what we are seeing is that employees need help. They need support.
Getting ahead of naloxone kits
Employee health starts with commitment. From employers, multiple layers of government, and mental health and addiction professionals.
One of the first, and biggest, benefits that an employer can provide is an improved employee benefit plan or a policy that includes substance use counseling or addiction rehabilitation therapy. The long-term gains and savings will far outweigh the loss in productivity, sick days, injuries, and death if those naloxone kits aren’t used in time.
The legislation of naloxone kits in the workplace should be the last in the series of actions. The start is an industry providing help to their employees first, without shame or the fear of job loss. The benefits of help far outweigh the costs.
If your company has issues with employee substance use, email me to discuss how you can help them get well, stay safe, and keep your company productive.