Pubdate: Thu, 04 Jan 2018
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Lori Culbert
Page: A1


They climb high buildings, bend steel and do dangerous jobs with
little room for error, but while sounding a bit like superheroes, many
fly under the radar as they struggle with mental health and addiction

A construction industry program that offers additional services and
mental health treatment has seen demand more than double in the past
year, driven by the fentanyl epidemic and the organization's efforts
to reach more workers.

"It is frightening what is happening in our industry. One of the
reasons we are seeing so many people coming in is because they are
scared," Vicky Waldron, executive director of the Construction
Industry Rehabilitation Plan, told Postmedia News.

"Fentanyl has a huge amount to do with it. … And it's just not showing
any signs of slowing down."

Between January and October 2017, illicit drug overdoses claimed 1,208
lives in B.C. Fentanyl was involved in 999 of those deaths. That
figure is a massive jump compared with the 423 fentanyl related deaths
over the same time period in 2016.

The Fraser Health Authority, which stretches from Burnaby to Hope, has
said a "disproportionate number" of those overdosing in its region are
working-age men employed in the trades.

CIRP, which has operated for about 35 years, was formerly an
abstinence-based residential program that helped a maximum of 80
construction workers per year from B.C. and Yukon. It now has been
redesigned to include nonresidential and harm-reduction options, and
in just over a year helped 200 clients, Waldron said.

Why her industry has been hit so hard isn't easy to explain, she said,
because the reasons behind addictions are often complex.

It is partly to do with the fact the mostly male members of the
industry are reluctant to discuss health or other concerns. It can
also be explained by data collected over the past year by Waldron and
her co-workers, all master's-level clinicians, after screening clients
with addictions who have come to CIRP:

■ 80 per cent have co-occurring mental health

■ Almost 90 per cent had significant early childhood

■ 70 per cent display symptoms of post-traumatic stress

■ The most common age group is 31 to 40.

"I can really see what is going on in the construction industry isn't
dissimilar to what is happening in the Downtown Eastside," said
Waldron, who spent more than five years working for Vancouver Coastal
Health in several Downtown Eastside clinics before joining CIRP in
February 2016.

"These are people who are really struggling and trying to

CIRP is funded by the Construction Labour Relations Association, which
represents employers and contractors, and the Building Trades Council,
an umbrella organization that represents 17 construction unions and
their 35,000 members.

While the exact number of construction workers affected by overdoses
is not known, the industry cautions it would be a tiny percentage of
the tens of thousands who work in the trades. Still, both unions and
employers have taken part in Fraser Health workshops to brainstorm
about how to warn workers to stay safe.

In the summer, CIRP started handing out naloxone kits after one of its
clients - who lived outside of Metro Vancouver - died of an overdose,
despite Waldron's insistence that he get access to something that can
reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. So far, they have given
away more than 600 kits.

"As the fentanyl crisis was worsening, I knew we had to offer
naloxone. Very sadly, we lost someone on our own caseload," Waldron
said. "I have to tell you I was heartbroken."

Mary, who does not want her real name used because she is a longtime
recovered alcoholic who works in health care, said CIRP helped her
construction-worker husband when it appeared his drinking was about to
destroy their marriage.

"For the past few years, my husband has been battling addiction in the
form of alcoholism. For him, it started socially, then progressed to
help with his anxiety and stress," she said.

"Due to influences in his trade, (the) construction industry, the norm
would be to drink after work. Fast forward to five months ago when our
world was turned upside down with my husband hitting

Her husband is now sober after starting outpatient therapy two or
three times a week with CIRP, and Mary attends a support program for
spouses. The couple, who has children, are now rebuilding their
relationship, she said.

As a health-care worker, Mary said she witnesses "the judgment and how
the system fails people who struggle with addiction daily," but said
CIRP's program is flexible and supportive.

Previously, the program provided residential abstinence-based
treatment in a house.

It now advocates a harm-reduction model, telling workers they will not
be judged for their substance use, and that help is available even if
they are not able to quit using. The goal is to get them stable and
working toward longterm "positive change," which for many of her
clients includes abstinence, Waldron said.

CIRP also pays for two rapid access drug treatment beds at a private
Vancouver residential treatment centre, which are immediately
available when needed. There is little support in B.C. for people once
they leave long-term treatment though, so CIRP continues to see these
clients for a year, offering services such as counselling for clients
who have returned to work.

It provides assistance as well with other necessities to get the
workers back on track, such as finding housing. Waldron said there has
been an increase in the number of her clients who say they are
homeless, from about four per cent a year ago to 11 per cent now.

"We do have clients who were sleeping in their trucks and showing up
for work and none of their colleagues had noticed," she said.

The program also offers guidance to relatives, such as trying to
explain why their loved ones use opioids despite the overdose scare.
One explanation Waldon offered is they feel drugs are the only way to
make their PTSD flashbacks go away.

"At the program, we don't see happy people, unfortunately. We
generally see people after the wheels have fallen off. At that point,
people are holding onto jobs by the skin of their teeth, or other
people have already lost their jobs," said Waldron, who has a master's
degree in psychology.

"The question we always ask when they come in the door: It's not
really about what they've done, but what has happened to that person."
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