Construction trades battling opiate addictions with cannabis

North America’s largest construction union says up to 30 per cent of opioid-related deaths in Canada are occurring among those in the trades

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Workers in Canada have fought many court battles to protect their rights to use medical cannabis. Often, they’ve been a losing cause.

The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA), North America’s largest construction union, is charting a more direct path to make medical cannabis available to its members.

LiUNA has struck up a partnership with Starseed, a smaller Licensed Producer (LP) in Canada that was recently purchased by WeedMD, to provide LiUNA members access to cannabis – and, in the process, provide an off-ramp from a road that, for many in the trades who suffer from workplace injuries, leads directly to opioid addiction.

Victoria Mancinelli, a LiUNA spokesperson, tells CannCentral that research indicates that “25 to 30 per cent of opioid-related deaths” in the country were occurring among those in the construction industry. She says that’s “due to the fact that the workers are doing taxing work that was primarily being treated with opioids.”

Getting medical cannabis covered is, for most Canadian workers, a challenge. Only a small number of employers (including some large companies like Shoppers Drug Mart) actually cover medical cannabis. Few insurers offer cannabis coverage as a standard benefit, though most are able to cover it at an employer’s request.

Medical coverage is often the primary determinant of how someone treats workplace injuries, especially in the trades.

Staking out a partnership like this provides a channel for valuable feedback from users. Starseed gets a captive patient market and to hear what works and what is most needed.

“We all know the challenges that some of these pharmaceutical products have been creating,” says Starseed’s president Angelo Tsebelis. “We know what happens when some individuals start down the path of opiates.”

It’s not the case that chronic pain sufferers mainly need to use CBD products.

“We are finding that these individuals do need some THC,” says Tsebelis, “to help them sleep and rest for the next day.”

Starseed also learned through its partnership with LiUNA that with many LPs, CBD oils were often out of stock, leaving workers who need early-morning or pre-work relief in the lurch.

As medical coverage for weed remains scarce, unions offer one interesting avenue through which access can be expanded. Unions tend to see medical cannabis as less of a liability than employers do. They also see the dangers of doing nothing.

There remain some obstacles as employers come around to the idea. “There was some reticence for employers or unions to add [cannabis] to the plans,” says Tsebelis. “They’re prepared to pay for it, but want to make sure it is done in a responsible way. The biggest issue is, how do you educate these individuals?”

Starseed gets to step in there, too. “We created an opiate displacement program,” says Tsebelis.

From the union’s perspective, that is a bright spot in an otherwise bleak landscape when it comes to pain management.

“A partnership like LiUNA’s with Starseed is an essential step forward in combatting the opioid crisis,” says Mancinelli. “There are traditional ways of thinking about cannabis. We must ensure we continue to engage and promote its medicinal purposes.”


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