As overdose deaths continue to rise in Ontario, the provincial government has made it mandatory for some workplaces to have naloxone kits on hand to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
Ontario reported 1,853 opioid-related deaths between January and September 2022, according to the latest available data from Statistics Canada.
Thunder Bay had the highest opioid toxicity death rate in the province in 2022, at 77.2 per 100,000 residents, significantly higher than the county’s rate of 17.6 per 100,000, according to preliminary data from the Office of the Chief Coroner released last month . The northwestern Ontario city also led the province in opioid deaths per capita in 2021.
Under the new legislation, workplaces must have naloxone kits if these three scenarios apply:
- There is a risk of opioid overdose in workers.
- There is a risk of someone taking an overdose while in a workplace where they perform work for the employer.
- The risk is formed by someone who performs work for the employer.
“My goal is to have a naloxone kit in every workplace in the province by the end of this decade,” Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s minister of labor, told Breaking:.
Essentially, the legislation only applies to employees in their workplace; the OHSA requirements do not apply if the risk of opioid overdose is created by a customer, patient or other member of the public in or near a workplace.
A workplace may be considered to be at high risk for an employee overdose if:
- An employer witnessed an employee using opioids at work.
- They’ve seen drug supplies at the scene.
- They have witnessed employee overdose at work in the past.
- An employee has voluntarily disclosed the use of opioids.
- A health and safety, human resources or union representative has told an employer that there is a high risk.
The Department of Labor is relaxing the legislation with an education-first approach, “and as time goes on, enforcement will be strengthened,” McNaughton said.
“We want people to come forward. We’re doing this to save lives, to reduce stigma, to raise awareness for opioid addiction,” he said.
Workplaces that meet the criteria for mandatory naloxone but fail to provide it could face fines.
However, McNaughton said, “I believe that employers do an overwhelmingly good job. They want to do a good job to help their employees and the general public.”
Naloxone will not harm a person who has not overdosed but is receiving the medication. Anyway, under the Good Samaritan lawanyone who administers naloxone to someone who has overdosed is protected from arrest.
Construction sector oriented
The construction and manufacturing sectors accounted for 45 percent of the jobs in Ontario’s Naloxone program.
According to Public Health Ontario, the construction sector is disproportionately affected because of the opioid problem – almost one in 13 opioid-related deaths occurred among construction workers between 2018 and 2020. Of the construction workers who died, more than half were employed at the time, the report said.
Harold Lindstrom, manager of the Construction Association of Thunder Bay, said contractors have been preparing for the naloxone requirements since January and most workshops in the industry already have the kits.
Most companies have received their kits for free, whether from the Red Cross, NorWest Community Health Centers or a pharmacy, and training is available online or from a healthcare professional.
“A lot of companies have already established that … all of their employees coming in, it’s part of their initial training when they come in,” Lindstrom said.
Breaking: looked for statistics from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, but was told no data was available on overdose deaths among construction workers in Thunder Bay.
Juanita Lawson is chief executive officer of NorWest Community Health Centers, which houses Northwest Ontario’s only safe consumption location, Path 525, in the Thunder Bay office.
Research in British Columbia has shown that workplace culture has a significant impact on whether people talk about substance use and treatment, and there is a need for a safer environment for these discussions, Lawson said.
“There’s a growing demand for skilled occupations, but we also know that there are more injuries, right, as a result of the work they do. And with that comes more pain-related management that needs to take place,” Lawson said.
Work is underway on new programs in northwestern Ontario aimed at treating mental health and addictions among people in the construction and mining industries, she said.
Preventive measures needed
While it’s important to have naloxone readily available, Lawson said more needs to be done to prevent opioid-related overdoses.
Progress has been made locally, with the opening of Path 525, the Rapid Access Addiction Medicine Clinic and the new drug analyzer that can test street drugs for deadly substances.
But one of the biggest challenges is reaching those who are hesitant to access support, she said.
“There’s still a need to really reach a group of people … who we realize and recognize are probably never going to get into a consumption and treatment service,” Lawson said.
Research is being done in collaboration with Lakehead University in Thunder Bay to look at what happens among people who use substances and their concerns, and what may be driving them to use alone, something that puts them at greater risk of harm.
Lawson encourages people to download it for free Lifeguard Digital Health appavailable in Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout, Fort Frances, Rainy River, and Greenstone.
The app includes a use-only timer, which sends an alert to medical professionals if a person doesn’t stop the timer, meaning they may have overdosed, and information about naloxone use and how to access mental health support. health and addiction.
“Naloxone in the workplace is very important, but again, I think it’s part of the conversation and it can’t be the only thing we’re offering,” Lawson said.
“Those (preventive) pieces are really, really important in all of our workplaces and throughout our lives — that we need to have conversations that are supportive.”
More information on naloxone requirements is available on the county’s website.