Men in trades: the opioid overdose crisis in Canada

Impacts of substance use on men in trades, ways to reduce stigma and substance use harms, and how to get help with substance use.

If you are in an emergency situation, call 9-1-1 or your local emergency department.

Immediate crisis support is available at Wellness Together Canada

Resources on this page are for anyone, not just men in trades.

On this page

Men in trades and substance use

Men experience the highest rates of opioid overdoses in Canada.Footnote 1 Trades workers are more impacted by substance use and addiction than other fields of work.

Figure 1. How much does substance use impact men in trades?
An image showing how much men in trades have been impacted by substance use. Text version below.
Text description

This image shows how much men in trades have been impacted by substance use. It states that:

  • Since 2016, around 3 out of 4 opioids related deaths were men
  • 30 to 50 % of those employed worked in trades at the time of their death

There are many reasons why men who work in trades are more affected by overdoses and substance-related harms.

Learn more about substance use.

Get help with substance use

It takes strength to ask for help. Getting support could make the difference for you and those around you.

Resources available

Ease the burden of substance use


Loud construction noises

On a construction site, a man carries a cinderblock on his shoulder.

The man has the cinderblock on his lap while eating lunch.

Jackhammer hammering

The man returns home, still carrying the block.

Door closing

His wife tries to take it, but he shakes his head

Narrator: Substance use and addiction can be a heavy load to carry

The man looks at bruises from the cinderblock on his shoulder in a bathroom mirror.

Puck being shot on TV

With the block on his shoulder, the man watches a hockey game with friends.

Men cheering

Narrator: But it can get better with support

Narrator: It takes strength to ask for help

A friend notices man did not jump to cheer like the others and sees the cinderblock is still on the man’s shoulder.

The man and the friend back at job site talking.

The friend offers support by putting hand on the man’s shoulder.

Narrator: See how you can help or get help at

Canada wordmark

Narrator: A message from the Government of Canada

First four notes of O Canada on piano

Harms of stigma

People use drugs for many different reasons, but no one chooses an addiction. Addiction affects the brain, making it hard to stop using drugs, even when it's hurting you or people in your life. Recovery is possible but it looks different for everyone.

Even though we know addiction is not a choice, society stigmatizes people struggling with substance use. This stigma can prevent people from asking for help because:

Stigma and judgement can cause people to hide their drug use and use drugs alone. Since the majority of overdoses in Canada happen when people are alone, reducing stigma can actually save lives.

Facts about stigma

Asking for help takes courage

Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness. It takes strength to reach out for help. Recovery from an addiction often requires medical treatment such as opioid agonist therapy or counselling. Getting well is possible but the journey will look different for everyone. It's important to remember that recurrence of substance use may be part of that journey. Help is available.

'Hitting rock bottom' can be more harmful than helpful

You do not need to hit rock bottom to get help. It can actually be more harmful. People who are dealing with substance use need access to a full range of harm reduction, such as supervised consumption sites, and treatment services that respond to their unique needs. Everyone takes a different path towards wellness, and there are many ways to heal. Rather than using 'tough love', try showing your friend or family member that you care. Learn more about talking to a friend or family member about their substance use.

The illegal drug supply is extremely toxic, and overdoses are happening at a record rate

86% of overdose deaths involve fentanyl, a strong opioid, and most are accidental. Fentanyl can be in any illegal drug including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, oxycodone and morphine. If you ever use illegal drugs, you are at risk of overdose. Carry naloxone and don't use alone, because if an overdose occurs no one will be there to administer naloxone and call 911.

There's a good chance that someone you know is struggling with their substance use and you may have no idea. There are steps we can take to support our friends and family members and reduce stigma.

Additional resources

Know the risks and save a life

When using drugs, it's important to know the risks and how to reduce them.

When taking illegal drugs, it's impossible to know exactly what you are taking. Common illegal drugs are being increasingly contaminated with strong opioids like fentanyl. You can't see, taste or smell fentanyl, and a few grains can be enough to kill the average person. Overdoses are happening to people who didn't realize they took an opioid.

To lower your risks and save a life:

Resources about using substances:

Employer’s Communication Toolkit

A collection of communication products that employers can use to talk to their employees about substance use and addiction.

Communications toolkit for employers of men in trades

Chronic pain and substance use

Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than three months. Trades workers often experience chronic pain, and this can lead to the use of substances. There are many reasons why workers will use pain medications like opioids more often:

Resources for chronic pain and addiction


Footnote 1

Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses. Opioid- and Stimulant-related Harms in Canada [Internet]. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada. 2022 [cited 2022 June 1]. Available from:

Return to footnote 1 referrer

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