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
- Get help
- Ease the burden of substance use
- Harms of stigma
- Risks of opioids and how to save a life
- Employer’s Communication toolkit
- Chronic pain and substance use
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.
There are many reasons why men who work in trades are more affected by overdoses and substance-related harms.
- Trades work is physically demanding and stressful. It is common for trades workers to want to celebrate or relax after work by using substances like drugs and alcohol.
- Since injury and pain are common in the trades, workers often use alcohol or other substances to cope with pain. Pain relief is one way people get introduced to opioids.
- Men are often expected to not talk about their substance use or mental health problems. This makes them less likely to ask for help when they need it.
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.
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.
The man returns home, still carrying the block.
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.
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.ca/EaseTheBurden
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:
- they do not want to damage their reputation
- they do not want to be judged
- they do not want to get in trouble professionally or with the law
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.
- Stigma around drug use
- Explore real stories and how stigma impacts people who use drugs
- Building Hope video series: Real life stories of Substance Use in the Trades
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:
- recognise the signs of an opioid overdose
- know what to do: Naloxone can save a life
- don't take more than one substance at a time
- don't use drugs alone, because if an overdose occurs no one will be there
- learn why the Good Samaritan law can protect you if you call 9-1-1, even if you have taken drugs or have some on you
- learn how to talk to your friends and family about drug use
Resources about using substances:
- Low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines
- Canada's lower-risk cannabis use guidelines
- Smoking, vaping and tobacco
- Vaping and quitting smoking
- Quit smoking
- Health effects of cannabis
- Addiction to cannabis
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:
- to avoid the stigma associated with pain
- the pressure to get back to work
- a lack of resources to help prevent and manage chronic pain can lead to using pain medication
Resources for chronic pain and addiction
- Talking to your health care provider about opioids: A plain language resource available in both French and English about talking to your healthcare provider about opioids.
- Chronic pain: A brief and simple resource about chronic pain definitions, discrimination stigma, treatments and therapies.
- About chronic pain: Resources to explain chronic pain, treating pain and seeking care.
- Opioids: When you need them and when you don't: This resource provides information on opioids, including when you need them and when you don't.
- Managing pain at work (available in French only): A resource to help you manage pain at work, including when to tell your employer, the importance of ergonomics, working with an occupational therapist and other tips for promoting a pain-friendly work environment.
- Opioid Prescribing for Chronic Pain (Patient Reference Guide): A guide for people with chronic pain and their families, including what to ask for when receiving treatment.
- Musculoskeletal Disorders: Prevention: This 60-minute course provides information on work-related musculoskeletal disorders and how to develop and use ergonomics as a way to prevent injuries in the workplace.
- Canadian Injured Workers Alliance: A network that supports provincial and territorial injured worker organizations.
- 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: https://health-infobase.canada.ca/substance-related-harms/opioids-stimulants/
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