The powerful synthetic drug is leading to the deaths those in the trades.
The opioid crisis in Ontario is ripping through the construction industry, accounting for nearly 8% of all of Canada’s drug-related deaths in the three-year span between 2017 and 2020. A new report suggests that “428 men who worked, or had previously worked, in the construction industry have died” as a result of overdoses, which is more than one out every ten workers.
The report by researchers from The Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN), Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner, and Public Health Ontario, found that in “87% of cases,” fentanyl was the reason for drug-related deaths in the field, and workers ages 25-44 years old had higher fatality rates than those of other ages.
The findings are not surprising to Jase Watford, who has been struggling with addiction for a dozen years and has worked in construction across Canada’s western region. He would pick up odd jobs here and there before taking a week off at a time to engage in use. He eventually became homeless.
“The lifestyle of a construction worker is work hard, play hard,” Watford said. “They expect a lot of you, and you work as hard as you can. If you play hard, there’s the availability to play very, very, very hard. If you don’t have good self-control and good boundaries, you can find yourself in a deep hole very quickly.”
Today, Waterford is in recovery and has become an advocate for others who are still struggling. He lost his job as a result of his use but has found new purpose working with city committees to raise awareness about homelessness and addiction. Through his efforts, he has been able to promote treatment and recovery to those stuck in the cycle.
Waterford said he likes to tell addicts who are struggling, “You have two choices: either turn your life into something meaningful…or expire.”
The Canadian government warns that fentanyl is 20 to 40 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Non-medical use of fentanyl causes a quick rush of euphoria when it’s injected, smoked, snorted or ingested in high doses. Euphoria is followed by a period of calm lasting one to two hours. Fentanyl is odorless and tasteless, and dealers are increasingly mixing it with other drugs because its cheap. This means that users could ingest the potent synthetic unknowingly and overdose. The drug has been found in heroin, cocaine and even counterfeit pills made to look like prescription opioids.
Canada’s minister for mental health has reported that almost 20% of people who died in British Columbia last year of overdoses were tradesmen or equipment operators. Almost 80% of these individuals were male and nearly half were working in the construction field and were site when they became ill.
In order to reduce the number of overdose fatalities among the country’s construction workers, the stigma surrounding seek mental health and substance use treatment has to be broken. Waterford feels that if these workers knew how prevalent the issue was (that they are not alone by any means) this could help encourage some to seek treatment.