The demand for mental health and addiction services for construction workers at a B.C. treatment centre has “almost tripled” in the past year — largely driven by the fentanyl overdose epidemic.
“The explosion of fentanyl has brought the Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan (CIRP) to the forefront of many people’s minds,” says Vicky Waldron, executive director, CIRP, a joint initiative of the Construction Labour Relations Association of B.C. and the BC Building Trades Council.
A study done by the Fraser Health Authority concluded the construction industry is “disproportionately represented” in all of the opioid deaths in B.C. in 2016, says Waldron.
“The construction industry is losing more workers — specifically men — than any other industry,” she says.
Waldron suggests the addictions problem is highest in construction partly because it is a male-dominated industry and many are “macho” and not apt to talk about their feelings or problems.
“We started with a population that isn’t doing terribly well to begin with and now we’ve thrown fentanyl into the mix,” she states.
The CIRP is helping to stem that tide. It offers construction workers with addiction and mental health issues such services as trauma and mental health management counselling.
In-residence stays at health care facilities offered through CIRP — once mandatory for all patients — is now one of a number of options available to patients, says Waldron, noting the treatment model was revamped last year to better suit individual needs.
New to the construction industry, Waldron came to the CIRP in 2015 with a wealth of job experience in mental health and addiction. She recognizes addictions are complex, often symptomatic of biological, psychological and social factors.
She says while the CIRP keeps tabs on which trades its clients are from, the organization is careful not to draw conclusions that some trades are worse than others.
“Some building sectors are more open and willing to engage in mental health and addictions conversations which make it easier for those clients to come to us,” she says.
Waldron explains data collected over the past couple of years indicates more than 80 per cent of the CIRP’s clients have “co-occurring mental health” disorders. That means along with having substance abuse issues, they have mental health illnesses, which they are often not aware of.
“They just know they aren’t doing well and they are using drugs to cope,” she says.
Most surprising to Waldron is that 90 per cent of the CIRP’s clients have screened positive for “significant early childhood traumas.” By comparison, only 40 to 45 per cent of the general population seeking help has similar traumatic histories.
What’s more, of that 90 per cent, about 70 per cent screen positive for “moderate to severe” post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, says the CIRP’s executive director, adding most of these clients have never been diagnosed before with PTSD.
Waldron says it is not uncommon for CIRP to see clients only after they have experienced multiple overdoses.
“We can start taking some guesses as to why but we really have to examine this more,” says Waldron. “We’re just starting to peel back the top layers of what is going on.”
She says the building industry’s problems are only now starting to get province-wide recognition. Spotlighting them helps to increase awareness and hopefully services will continue to grow.
“We have seen rapid expansion of the program and services we offer… but expansion is always butted up against funding, unfortunately,” she states, adding in an ideal world funding would be available for more outreach programs and early treatment (prime intervention) programs.
Waldron would also like to see the Lower Mainland-based CIRP increase services to remote areas of B.C. Last year it started providing counselling through Skype — a step in the right direction, she says.
While CIRP sees many people in crisis, Waldron says there is a good news side to the field. One example is case of a construction worker who came “as a last resort” when his marriage and family was crumbling because of his addiction.
Extensive treatment that included counselling for him and his wife “saved the marriage and her husband’s life,” according to his wife, says Waldron.
The CIRP can be contacted toll free at 1-800-521-8611.