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Project overview

The Opioid-Related Harms among Ontario Workers project is a four-year collaboration between the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) and the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) at Ontario Health. Its aim is to establish a surveillance program to monitor opioid-related adverse health events among Ontario workers.

What are opioids and opioid-related harms?

Opioids are drugs with pain-relieving properties. They can be prescription medications, such as codeine and oxycodone, as well as illegally produced and obtained drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl. Opioids are used for medical reasons (e.g., to manage pain), but also for non-medical reasons (e.g., for the euphoric effects). In either case, their improper use has the potential to cause serious harm. Opioid-related harms are negative health outcomes caused by opioids, such as poisonings (overdoses), use disorders and death.

Why is this project needed?

For years, Canada has been experiencing the devastating consequences of an opioid-related public health crisis. More than 20,000 people in Canada died or were hospitalized due to opioid-related poisonings between January 2016 and June 2021, and working-aged adults have been most affected.

Some reports on opioid-related overdose deaths have shown that these deaths are more common among people who work in the construction, transportation and manufacturing sectors. However, current health surveillance systems in Canada monitor opioid-related harms without capturing complete employment information. With employed Canadians spending the majority of their waking hours at work and commuting to and from work, studying opioid-related harms in the context of work can help identify groups of workers at highest risk of harm.

What will this project accomplish?

This project will raise awareness about the risk of opioid-related harms occurring among Ontario workers and expand efforts to address the opioid crisis.

The main objective of the project is to establish a surveillance program to examine and monitor opioid-related adverse health events and identify worker groups at risk of the greatest harms. The project will do this by adapting and expanding an existing system called the Occupational Disease Surveillance System (ODSS). The ODSS contains occupational data on 1.7 million Ontario workers linked to health information on hospitalizations and emergency department visits.

The specific goals of the project are to:

  • Monitor and describe rates of opioid-related hospitalizations and emergency department visits among workers in the ODSS since 2006
  • Compare rates of opioid-related harms among workers in the ODSS to those in the general population of Ontario
  • Identify the characteristics of workers in the ODSS (e.g., occupation, industry, nature of claim) associated with higher rates of opioid-related harms

Learn more about our approach to building a new surveillance system for monitoring opioid-related harms among workers.

Who is this project for?

The findings of this project are relevant to workers from across Ontario, as well as to public health practitioners, policy-makers, employers, labour organizations, occupational health and safety professionals and health-care providers—all of whom can develop and influence strategically targeted programs, policies and education to help prevent and reduce the harms of opioids among workers.