THUNDER BAY - The growing opioid crisis gripping cities across the country goes beyond the streets, with people of all backgrounds and income levels being affected and dying as a result.
“We need to be aware in our community that it is not just those who are down and out who are abusing opiates,” said Brian Schenk, an advance care paramedic and acting superintendent with Superior North EMS.
“People with incomes living quality lives are also succumbing to opioid addiction. It might start with casual use, but it can very quickly lead to dependency. That is on both ends of the perspective, from the poor to the wealthy.”
With this widespread prevalence of opioid use and dependency, workplaces are starting to look at ways of identifying at-risk behaviours and developing policies to assist those who may be struggling, or in extreme cases, helping people who may overdose on the job.
Workplace Safety and Prevention Services hosted a health and safety conference in Thunder Bay this week and on Wednesday a panel discussion on the impacts of opioids in the community was held.
The panel, consisting of health care workers, the Thunder Bay Drug Strategy, and workplace safety advocates, discussed the risks associated with opioid use, how it can impact a workplace, and what employers can to do reduce these risks.
Trevor Beauchamp, territory manager for Central and Northern Ontario with Workplace Safety and Prevention Services, said the opioid crisis is a community issue but does have a place in the workplace.
“The way we look at it is we do consider it another source of impairment in the workplace,” he said. “We don’t really worry too much about sources of impairment. We worry more about Impairment is impairment and the workplace has to be prepared for any kind of injury or illness due to any kind of impairment.”
Most workplaces already have a drug and alcohol policy for employees, but other jobs may place workers in direct contact with opioids.
“At the same time, as a community issue, you have a lot of community workers, emergency responders, social workers that are exposed to opioids and those employers need to make sure those employees are protected,” Beauchamp said.
According to Schenk, paramedics are dealing with an increasing number of opioid related calls, which have gone up substantially in the last five years.
“Here in Thunder Bay, Superior North EMS is generally dealing with an opioid related call roughly every 26 to 28 hours,” he said. “That is roughly every 1.2 days we have an opioid related call.”
While Schenk believes the city and country are reacting fairly well to the growing crisis, it’s still important to continue to educate the public about the dangers of opioid use and measures to protect those affected.
“I like to think we are trending in a positive direction,” he said. “We definitely have the tools, especially Narcan available, not only from us as paramedics, but emergency first responders, police, fire. I think we are on top of it in terms of trying to deal with those affected by it.”
Narcan or Naloxone is used to stop an opioid overdose and can be administered intravenously with a needle or as a nasal spray and more workplaces are taking the step of having one on site.
“I’m not aware of any legislative requirements to carry Naloxone kits, but when you look at the occupational health and safety act, it requires employers to identify their hazards and protect their workforce from those hazards,” Beauchamp said. “That is the choice of the employer. They have to do their research and if that tells them that the best option to protect their workers is to have naloxone kits, then that is the best answer.”
“I think that would be worth considering,” Schenk added. “Now that we know Narcan is available to almost anybody and everybody and available free of charge, it makes sense to have it in a first aid kit. It’s unfortunate that it’s come to that point, but I think that would probably be a wise thing.”