‘Opioids and the Workplace’ conference Jan. 10-11 to address impact on the workforce


Begin conversations about crisis and what to do about it

Opioid and heroin abuse are a problem in our society and on the jobsite.


A coalition of Labor, community members and business leaders will host a two-day “Opioids and the Workplace”  conference next Thursday, Jan. 10 and Friday, Jan. 11, at the Millennium Student Center on the UMSL campus focusing on the intersection of the opioid crisis and its impact of the workforce with a focus on engaging other leaders in the Saint Louis community to have conversations about the crisis and what to do about it.
“This is something that is affecting not just kids and teenagers throughout the area, but a lot of our workers are having the same issues,” said Pat White, president of the St. Louis Labor Council.
Topics for Day One include:

• Defining the crisis: The chemistry of the brain.

• Economic impact: What is it really costing everyone?

• The status quo is not working. What is working? What else is out there?

• Alternatives.

Day Two workshops will focus on:

• Barriers to returning to work.

• Available resources.

• Working with the media.

• Case studies.

• Mental Health First Aid.


The fee for this two-day program is only $100, and scholarship assistance may be available.  We encourage you to take part in this important conversation, and to lend your voice to our solution-building process.
For more information and to register, visit cme.missouri.edu/opioids
Questions should be directed to Doug Swanson, Labor & Workforce Development field specialist for the University of Missouri Extension at 314/400-7635 or swansondj@missouri.edu.



John Gaal, director of Training and Workforce Development for the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, has been directly involved in research regarding worker health and safety on the jobsite, working with Washington University to study Total Worker Health
“When people walk onto a jobsite, they don’t leave their baggage at the gate,” Gaal said. “They bring that baggage with them onto the jobsite, and that impacts safety.
“When you go on a jobsite and that crane operator’s got a 20-ton line going over 15 people’s heads, you want that crane operator’s thoughts on that load and not on where their next alimony payment or tuition payment is coming from.”
Gaal said the study started in March of 2016, around the same time that Laborers Local 110 Business Manager Don Willey lost his son to a heroin overdose.
“It’s a fact of life in our culture right now, and has been for the past 20 or so years,” Gaal said. “It’s just in the last two or three years that we’ve seen a lot of prominence in the media.”
Still, Gaal said, researchers didn’t initially see the link between the opioid crisis and construction work.
“I explained to them in construction, unless you work, you don’t get paid. People need to put food on the table. So, if your knees are hurting, your back is hurting, your wrists are hurting, whatever, you need to mask that pain to make it through the day,” Gaal said.
“A lot of workers turned to their doctors who were told that opioids were not addictive, which was an out and out lie. We didn’t know it back then, we know it now.”
When doctors stopped prescribing opioids, patients who had become addicted through no fault of their own – some of them local union members – were left to fend for themselves, Gaal said.
“They went to the street,” Gaal said. “They started buying heroin on the street. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper, probably more potent and, unfortunately, in the last year or so, it’s become more deadly because of the synthetic opioids that have been introduced like fentanyl, carfentanil and things of that nature.”


Late last year, the Centers for Disease Control issued a report on drug overdose deaths. In 2016, according to the report, there were 64,000 people in the United States who died from overdose-related deaths. In 2017, some 72,000 people died.
“Things aren’t getting better,” Gaal said. “They’re getting worse. And, depending on what report you read, construction is the worst sector to be in in the economy when it comes to deaths from opioids or suicide. We know it’s impacting us in an adverse way.”
In one recent incident, Gaal said, a union worker on a jobsite in the Central West End overdosed in his truck while on his lunch break. He survived only because another worker had forgotten a tool in his truck and found him on the parking lot when he went to retrieve it.
Gaal and Willey have worked to get NARCAN, an FDA-approved emergency nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, on every jobsite in the St. Louis region.
“We know it’s a problem,” Gaal said. “The CDC in their last report, a couple months ago, put Missouri in the top 15 of the worse states in the 50 states. That’s nothing to be proud of.”
According to the same CDC report, more than 70 percent of the opioids-related deaths in 2017 happened in St. Louis City and County.
“This is not a moral failing,” Gaal said. “This is a brain disease. This chemical robs the biology of the prefrontal cortex. That’s the part of your brain where all of your executive decisions are made. So it’s no wonder that people are screwing up.”



The problem isn’t just affecting the construction industry.
International Association of Fire Fighters 2nd District Vice President Mark Woolbright said the problem is also impacting first responders.
Last year, IAFF opened the IAFF Center of Excellence behavioral health treatment and recovery facility in Baltimore, MD, for IAFF members who are struggling with PTSD, substance abuse, depression and other behavioral issues. The center treated 400 members in its first year, and IAFF is now looking at opening another center on the west coast.
Woolbright said IAFF identified the severity of the problem after its member magazine published a story called “Coming out of the darkness.”
“They had to bring in extra staff to deal with member response saying, ‘I need help,’” he said.
“For our side, it’s more about PTSD and suicide for our guys because of what they see,” Woolbright said. “It accumulates and then our guys are getting on opiates.
“This touches me personally with my own son who has been in and out of rehab,” Woolbright said. “I’ve learned a lot because I’ve really been forced to.”
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Used opioids but didn’t get addicted? WashU researchers want to hear from you

Washington University School Medicine is looking for past recreational users of opioids who did not form a dependence to take part in a research study.
Participants must be 18 years or older, of European or African ancestry, with no recreational use of opioids in the past year and no lifetime use of opioids more than 60 times.
Total time of involvement is 2-3 hours and a $75 gift card will be provided after successful completion of the study.
Principal Investigators are Dr. Elliott Nelson and Dr. Arpana Agrawal.
To participate, or for more information, email omstudy@wustl.edu or call 314-273-3098.



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