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Connecticut's Construction Industry 'Stands Down' For Addiction Awareness And Prevention

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When Kyle Zimmer started working in the construction industry 40 years ago, he said health and safety standards focused on reducing injuries and fatalities from electrical hazards, falls and a lack of protective gear.  

But today, he said the focus needs to be on addiction, suicide prevention and behavioral health.

“Deaths on the job site from opioid overdoses are quickly approaching the totals of the other categories alone,” Zimmer said. “Working men and women are dying every day while silently struggling. It’s time to get uncomfortable, it’s time to reach out and help those struggling and point them in a direction so that recovery and a healthy productive life can be had.”

Zimmer, who is director of health and safety at International Union of Operating Engineers Local 478, joined state leaders and construction workers Monday in Hartford to launch a weeklong statewide campaign called Safety Stand-Down on Opioid Awareness and Prevention.

This week, construction sites and companies throughout Connecticut will stop work for periods to focus on addiction prevention, treatment and awareness as the industry sees high rates of opioid use and overdoses.

“This is consistent with the research documenting the use of prescribed opioids to manage acute and chronic pain following work-related injuries,” said John Hawley, vice president at Gilbane Building Co.

The state Medical Examiner’s Office projects that 1,088 people will die of an overdose in Connecticut this year, a majority of them from opioids.

Connecticut doesn’t collect industry-specific data, but the Massachusetts Department of Public Health looked at overdose data by occupation from 2011 through 2015. In a report last year, experts found that construction and extraction workers accounted for more than 24% of all opioid-related deaths among the working population.

It also showed that these workers are, on average, six times more likely to suffer a fatal opioid overdose than other workers.

Jay Sabo, a heavy-equipment operator and Local 478 member, said people in the industry should know that resources are available for addiction treatment. Sabo is in long-term recovery himself.

“Even at my lowest point, I was given support and reassurance from my union — do what was asked of me and I would always have my career,” he said. “I am living proof that you are not alone, and there is help and hope.”

The statewide campaign will run through Nov. 1.

People looking for addiction treatment help can call a 24/7 state hotline at 800-563-4086.

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.

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