Construction association project aims to help workers struggling with drug addiction

In an attempt to get a handle on the overdose crisis, the ­Vancouver Island Construction Association has joined forces with Island Health and the province to launch the Tailgate Toolkit project.

The three-phase project intends to develop a training curriculum and resources for employers and employees to reduce drug harm in the trades sector.

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“If there’s anything we can do within the construction and trades sector, we want to help,” said association chief executive Rory Kulmala, noting the problem bleeds through every sector of the economy.

However, Kulmala notes construction is home to thousands of young men who are often the demographic associated with drug use. According to the B.C. Coroners Service, 81 per cent of those who died as a result of drug use were men and 44 per cent of those who died were employed — more than half worked in the trades.

Kulmala said because there is a stigma attached to drug use, and many are reluctant to come forward and admit they have a problem, drug use tends to happen behind closed doors.

He noted the project hopes to start a dialogue that will create new programs and a language that those affected will actually want to use.

“Workers in construction, the trades, and transportation have been hit particularly hard by this crisis,” said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson. “We want people to feel comfortable talking about mental health and substance use. This project will go a long way to reducing the stigma that still stops people from reaching out for the help they need and deserve.”

The ministry is investing nearly $250,000 with Island Health into the project.

The first phase will have the construction association hold focus groups for supervisors, managers, owners, union reps, and educators in construction to share their experiences of how drug use affects the industry.

There will also be confidential one-on-one interviews with anyone who has worked in construction in the last five years and uses or has used drugs. Those interviews will be used to develop a training ­curriculum and resources for employers and employees.

Note to readers: This story has been updated. A previous version misstated the amount of money invested by the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in the project.

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