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CAF receives funding to tackle apprentice opioid use

Don Wall
CAF receives funding to tackle apprentice opioid use

The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF) has received $575,000 from the federal government to develop and implement an opioid harm reduction strategy for apprentices working in construction.

The CAF funding was part of a nearly $40 million package for 73 projects across Canada through Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program.

The plague of opioid addictions and deaths was chronicled by the Daily Commercial News in its Cracks in the Foundation series in 2021; the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network reported in May of that year that construction workers constituted 30 per cent of the 2,500 Ontarians who died of drug overdoses in 2020.

“It is an important issue for CAF,” said Emily Arrowsmith, the CAF’s director of research and programs.

“According to a 2021 CAF-FCA survey, apprentices’ physical and mental health has declined over the course of the pandemic. CAF-FCA is committed to supporting the mental health and wellness of apprentices and making sure they have the supports they need to be successful in their training.”

The CAF strategy will be co-developed with the Canadian Armed Forces, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety and Canada’s Building Trade Unions (CBTU).

CBTU executive director Sean Strickland said it’s important to develop a strategy to deal with the crisis based on research and evidence to better equip those in the industry to deal with what he termed a pressing societal issue.

“We have seen the devastating impact that substance use and addiction can have within our membership and broadly across Canada,” commented Strickland.

The CAF program, titled Reducing Apprentice Drug Use in the Skilled Trades: Best Practices for Safe Canadian Workplaces, will roll out over 18 months. The partners will undertake a national survey, interviews with apprentices and a literature review followed by outreach with apprentices and industry representatives.

Information about apprentices is limited and requires further investigation, said Arrowsmith.

“Apprentices are vulnerable due to their younger age and their lack of seniority on the job,” she said. “Apprentices may feel particular pressures to integrate into a male-dominated workplace culture.

“Their unique perspectives need to be better understood so communication materials can speak to their concerns as younger workers just starting out in their careers.”

Well-being is a topic worth investigating, Arrowsmith said, because it impacts an individual’s educational outcomes, productivity at work, the ability to get along with others and also their physical and mental health.

“As youths pursue training and enter the workforce, facilitating their well-being is particularly important because it eases school-to-work transitions and leads to higher levels of job satisfaction.”

The Ontario Drug Policy Research Network research from last year detected a notable shift towards more opioid-related deaths among males after COVID hit. Seventy-six per cent of opioid-related deaths during the pandemic occurred among men, up from 71 per cent before the pandemic.

The first stages of the CAF research will investigate apprentices’ lived and current experiences. Ideas around prevention gathered in the research phase will be integrated into a national media campaign targeted at apprentices.

The campaign will include social media posts, videos, e-learning micro modules and infographics that will create awareness about preventing injury and drug use and will direct apprentices to supports to reduce harm.

In 2020 the CAF reported on another survey of apprentices in which 552 members from the Apprentices in Canada ePanel responded.

Respondents in the ePanel survey were asked to identify the coping mechanisms they use to mediate stress. Two-thirds coped by taking time for themselves (64 per cent), engaging in hobbies (62 per cent) and spending time with family (61 per cent). Many also reported spending time with friends (57 per cent) or exercising (46 per cent).  One-third reported consuming drugs or alcohol (33 per cent).

Nine per cent of women and eight per cent of men took non-prescribed medication for their physical pain.

Twenty-five per cent of women and 10 per cent of men took prescription medicine for their mental health, and 13 per cent of women and eight per cent of men sought counselling.

Thirty-four per cent of men and 29 per cent of women consumed alcohol and drugs. 

The new study will provide an opportunity to build upon these results with a larger sample size – 3,500 is the target said Arrowsmith.

Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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