'The disproportionate impact of Ontario's overdose crisis among people working in the construction industry demands further attention'
Ontario construction workers are disproportionately represented in opioid-related deaths in the province, according to a report.
Nearly one in 13 opioid-related deaths in Ontario between 2018 and 2020 occurred among construction workers, according to the report from researchers from the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN) at St. Michael’s Hospital, a site of Unity Health Toronto, ICES, the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario and Public Health Ontario.
People working in the construction industry represented just 3.6 per cent of the entire Ontario population and 7.2 per cent of all employed people in Ontario in 2021, according to the report.
Ontario continues to face a rapidly growing opioid overdose crisis, with 2,460 opioid toxicity deaths reported in 2020, a nearly 60 per cent increase from 2019. In 87 per cent of these cases in 2020, unregulated fentanyl was found to have directly contributed to the death, a significant increase from the pre-pandemic period.
According to the federal government, between January 2016 and September 2018, more than 10,300 Canadians died from an apparent opioid-related overdose.
Non-pharmaceutical opioids (predominantly fentanyl) directly contributed to over 90 per cent of opioid toxicity deaths among people who worked in the construction industry (91.0 per cent) in Ontario, which was slightly higher than what was observed among those without a history of employment in the construction industry over this same period, according to the report.
“The disproportionate impact of Ontario’s overdose crisis among people working in the construction industry demands further attention,” said Dr. Tara Gomes, lead author of the report, a Scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital and ICES, and a Principal Investigator of the ODPRN.
“Importantly, despite a high prevalence of pain among workers, prescription opioids are not driving the patterns seen in this industry, with most deaths involving a combination of opioids with other drugs and alcohol. This could reflect a reliance on non-prescription opioids to manage unresolved pain in a sector where workplace culture and lack of job security can lead to under-reporting of injuries and pressure to minimize recovery time.”
In May, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health Safety (CCOHS) recognized that the use of opioids is a cause for concern for workplaces as it can result in injuries. The effect of opioids, the abuse of the drugs and overdose all have negative effects on not just the user, but on the workplace and even on other employees as well, it said.