British Columbia

B.C.'s remote work camps trying to 'get ahead' of the opioid crisis

Tree planting and the oil and gas industry are among several sectors that are taking a hands-on approach to the opioid crisis after several 'wake-up' calls.

Tree planting, oil and gas among industries pushing for greater naloxone training

Industrial first aid responders in B.C.'s oil and gas industry are starting to get trained to administer naloxone.

Dawson Creek's Peter Sidoruk never thought he would be training industrial first aid responders how to administer naloxone.

"I've understood there's always been drugs in and around oil and gas," said Sidoruk, a training manager with Mountainview Safety Services. "But the fact that we have to consider fentanyl as training for industrial first aiders ... it kind of scares me a little bit that this is going to become an epidemic."

Sidoruk can recall at least three recent fentanyl-related overdoses involved in remote oil and gas work camps, one of which was fatal. Since the death, Mountainview has began training low-level responders to administer naloxone — a compound that reverses the effects of overdose — in remote oil camps.

The measure is one that Sidoruk didn't see coming — but it's reality.

Fentanyl, a dangerous opioid, has been a growing concern across Canada. (CBC)

Epidemic up north

Over the last year, nearly 1,000 people have died from opioid overdoses across the province. While the bulk of the deaths occur in the Lower Mainland, no region is immune to the epidemic

In 2016, northeast B.C. had the third highest rate of overdose deaths per 100,000 people in the province at 23.5.

"[Dawson Creek isn't] a very big city at all, but we were averaging about two or three fentanyl overdoses per day," he said.

And the opioids have managed to flow outside the city into several remote work camps that screen for drugs and alcohol, often with police dogs.

"There's always the one person who can sneak that stuff in there during their off time," he said. "These guys get pretty sneaky about how they do things."

And the fear of fentanyl extends beyond just oil and gas.

Tree planters take note

B.C.'s tree planting is also looking into ways to stave off fatal overdoses.

"We think, in theory, we are exposed to this risk," said John Betts, director of the Western Forester's Contractors Association. "[Tree planting] contractors are concerned that some of their workers who do use recreational drugs may become exposed."

Betts says the relative isolation of work camps makes workers especially vulnerable.

"Our particular problem is that ... we're down the road, an hour-and-a-half, from anything that might resemble a trauma centre," he said.

"The opioid crisis has spread across society and our workforce is a subset of that society — so we likely have some exposure, and we're particularly vulnerable [because we work remotely]."

Members of the tree planting industry are also looking at ways to prevent potential fatal overdoses.

A wake-up call

While there hasn't been any recorded overdoses within planting camps, Betts says there has been some 'wake-up calls.'

Earlier this year, an employee fatally overdosed from fentanyl during a pre-season training period that took place in the Lower Mainland, said Betts.

The worker was hired as a remote camp supervisor. The WFCA president says his death was a major eye-opener.

"We're trying to get ahead of this problem, and the incident kind of came as a complete shock, I think — to everybody."

Now, the organization is outlining ways to prevent a fatal overdose from happening onsite, which might also mean naloxone training for the camp's first aid responders.

Betts says the WFCA is currently investigating ways to make naloxone readily available in camps as the season starts to get underway.