Today marks the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job. CDPC’s executive director Donald MacPherson participated in a memorial ceremony in Vancouver, B.C. to honour those who have died or have suffered injury or illness due to a work-related tragedy.
The Day of Mourning is a stark reminder of the urgent need for a safe supply of drugs in B.C. and across Canada, and increased access to harm reduction measures in the workforce.
In British Columbia, the majority of employed people in the province who died of toxic drug poisoning from 2017 to 2021 were employed in the trades, transport, and equipment operator industries.
The impact of the drug poisoning crisis on those in the trades, construction, and transport industries can be attributed to factors such as managing physical pain, mental health, and a culture of substance use within the industry. 1
According to the 2022 report, BC Coroners Service Death Review Panel: A Review of Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths, 35% of those who died of drug toxicity from Aug. 2017 to July 2021 were employed at the time of their death and over half (52%) of those employed worked in the trades, transport or as equipment operators.2
On this National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition is renewing its calls for an immediate, robust scale up of safe supply alternatives to the toxic illegal drug market and federal government action to decriminalize simple possession of drugs in Canada to reduce stigma and engage workers who may be at risk of drug toxicity deaths.
To further explain why these workers are disproportionately impacted, the Substance Use and the Workplace: Supporting Employers and Employees in the Trades toolkit produced by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction states,
“It is common for people in these types of jobs to experience work-related injuries, stress and pain. They may not have or know where to find the resources they need to take care of these issues. This could lead to using pain medications and other substances more often to cope.” 3
In January 2022, the province announced new funding for the Vancouver Island Construction Association (VICA) to expand its Tailgate Toolkit project – a program aimed at harm reduction and prevention of toxic drug poisoning in B.C.’s construction industry. According to the province, the project will raise awareness of pain management and reduce stigma associated with drug use.4