by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL
Sometimes the hardest, most seemingly thankless things in which we are involved can have the biggest impact. In December, Construction Forum STL hosted a program "Opioids, a Building Epidemic".
The program was the project of my good friend and Forum Board of Advisors Member Dr. John Gaal, director of training and workforce development for the STL/KC Carpenters Regional Council.
It was a tough program to promote and a tougher one to watch, but there are signs that John had the right idea and that the effort to destigmatize opium addiction, which affects more people in construction than in any other industry, is having an impact.
Last past week Bloomberg BNA reporter Sean Forbes called the Forum office after reading about our December “Opioids: A Building Epidemic Program” on ConstructForSTL.org and viewing the video on our website. Sean had been working on an article for about two weeks for Bloomberg’s law and construction newsletters.
He began his article for Bloomberg Law Daily Labor Report by writing about Don Willey, who was on our panel.
"Don Willey is familiar with the miserable statistics on the opioid epidemic, one that hits the construction industry harder than any other. He also knows the issue first-hand. His son died of a heroin overdose last year.
"When you've got a heroin addict in the family, you don't see the macro," said Willey...
"But after that loss Willey recognized the issue and went beyond the personal. which sparked him to launch a conference for his union focused on the opioid conference."
Angie Taylor, director of the Midwest Region Laborers' Health and Safety Fund, told Sean of Bloomberg BNA that the conference suggested strategies focusing on better ergonomic practices to reduce chronic injuries that lead to opioid addiction, the need to think of addiction as a chronic disease and offering resources for family members of addicts.
"Peas and Carrots"
I have called the opioids Forum program our “peas and carrots” program, because we had to push to get attendance that was half to two-thirds what we have seen at other programs. At the same time it was by far the most impactful program that we have seen in the history of the Forum. I will be forever grateful to John Gaal for pushing me (for months) to do this program.
Sean Forbes wrote: "The construction industry is already dealing with a skilled labor crunch, so businesses and unions have a strong interest in helping struggling workers, Tom Finan, executive director of Construction Forum STL, told Bloomberg BNA. His group -- a coalition of construction stakeholders in the St. Louis area--devoted its last forum of 2016 to the epidemic.
Finan called the forum the ‘‘most gratifying’’ one since the organization was founded. Tackling the epidemic is ‘‘something that we need to do, to recognize the resource that we have in our people,’’ Finan said."
Awareness is First
Asked where construction efforts to fight addiction need to start John Gaal told Sean Bloomberg BNA, ‘First and foremost is awareness and the ability to have conversations’’ about addiction and mental health." The Carpenters include courses on mental health in its safety training requirements. Carpenter mentors must complete eight hours of "mental health first aid" training. Since October 2015, Gaal told Bloomberg BNA, the Carpenters Council's health and welfare program has paid $2.1 million in claims related to opioid-dependent diagnoses.
Sean was gracious enough to send us a copy of the newsletter that ran last as the online version is by subscription only. It will also be published in another Bloomberg BNA newsletter. In an email late last week he also addressed the following comments to those of us who helped him in his research:
"Many thanks for the conversations with all of you. Your perspectives were invaluable, so I much appreciate your time in talking with me. Although the article is short (all of our articles here are), it’s a distillation of nine pages of notes and about two weeks of research.
"By coincidence, I was talking about the article yesterday—when it was published in Daily Labor Report—with a friend at lunch. I had forgotten that when he was a teenager he had his own problems with drugs, so he immediately understood why addressing this issue is so important, within the industry and in society at large."
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