Addressing chronic pain and overdose in the trades

January 15, 2021

Construction signsThe overdose crisis has taken the lives of more than 6,500 British Columbians and more than 17,000 Canadians since 2016. Many of those who have died have several things in common: they were mostly male, a significant number worked in construction and supporting industries, and more than half were living with physical pain.

For that reason, Pain BC was eager to take part in a Ministerial Roundtable on the Opioid Overdose Crisis and the Trades that was held by the Government of Canada this past December. The virtual event brought together representatives from industry, unions, health research, workplace safety and people with lived experience with the aim of better understanding the root causes of problematic substance use in the trades, including the substantial impact of pain on those employed in the industry.

Overdose in the trades is a critical issue for our organization and for the pain community. As many as 75% of workers in the construction industry report experiencing ongoing musculoskeletal pain, which puts them at increased risk for substance use and overdose.

The connection between pain and substance use is complex: Most people with chronic pain do not have Substance Use Disorder, but chronic pain is common among people Canadians who use drugs. In fact, as many as 55% of Canadians who use drugs experience persistent pain. Here in BC, data from the BC Coroners Service show that nearly half of all people who have died of overdose since 2016 sought medical care for pain in the year prior to their deaths.

Workers in the trades need better support to manage pain and its impacts on mental health in order to reduce their likelihood of Substance Use Disorder, disability, and overdose. Pain BC is committed to working with governments, industry, employers, trade unions,  insurers and other relevant stakeholders to improve the systems of care for people with pain who work in the trades, those who use substances, and all people who live with pain. 

If you work in the trades and live with pain and/or substance use, or you know someone who does, the following resources may be helpful. You can also call our Pain Support Line at 1-844-880-PAIN (7246).

Breaking Free Online – A self-guided tool that provides evidence-based strategies for those concerned about their alcohol and/or substance use. The mobile app is available for Canadians to download and use from the following platforms:

Canadian Injured Workers Alliance – An organization providing support groups, advocacy and other resources to injured workers. For more information, visit their website.

Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) – A training resource that teaches family and friends effective strategies for helping loved ones with alcohol and/or substance use and for feeling better themselves. Find out more here.

Movember Foundation – An online tool that provides guidance on talking with men about their mental health. Find out more here.

Tough Enough to Talk About It – A program that helps people in the trades recognize and address mental health and substance use issues though workplace presentations, safer workplaces seminars, and videos. Find out more here.

Wellness Together Canada – The Wellness Together Canada Portal was funded by the Government of Canada in response to the unprecedented rise in mental distress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Portal is a mental health and substance use website that connects Canadians to peer support workers, social workers, psychologists and other professionals for confidential chat sessions or phone call. Access the portal here.