Montpelier, VT– An increased focus on mental health education in the Vermont construction industry, one of leading fields in overdose and suicide rates in the state. Program officials are highlighting a new partnership that focuses on getting Narcan into the pockets of construction site workers, and leaders say efforts have been successful so far.
“It’s been unbelievably beneficial, we think that we’re making a huge impact,” says Drug and Alcohol Safety Consultant Reid Wobby.
How can we help those struggling with mental health and substance use disorders? A question Wobby and Stephanie Busch aim to answer. The pair created a partnership between the Vermont Department of Health and the Associated General Contractors of Vermont, getting educational courses and overdose reversal drug Narcan out to construction workers.
The Health Department has an established Naloxone distribution program; in the first 6 months of 2023, the department reports 30,696 doses of Naloxone have been distributed to Vermont community organizations for local distribution. In partnership with AGC, over 2,500 doses of Narcan have been given out.
“While we have seen an increase in overdose deaths, and also non-fatal overdoses, we’ve also seen a huge increase in the amount of Narcan or Naloxone that we’ve been able to get out into the community,” notes Busch.
Wobby has a passion for drug and alcohol training, and says he found alarming data through research.
“The Vermont construction industry had the highest rate of both suicide and overdoses out of any industry in Vermont,” says Wobby.
He notes in 2021, 23% of suicides and 26% of overdose deaths in Vermont were in the construction industry; “that was really troubling to me, those numbers are terrible,” Wobby says.
Wobby notes AGC has always focused on worker safety and decided to implement new kinds of training and resources within the industry.
“We really decided to jump in and take proactive approach when it comes to training and education as it relates to both overdose and suicide,” says Wobby.
Overdose prevention training began in July. Since then, Wobby says 85% of AGC members have asked for more Narcan, and efforts have expanded to cover a range of mental health disorders.
Wobby says just a week after these trainings started, he learned that an employee collapsed to a suspected overdose. Other members acted fast, having Narcan on-hand, and saved the man’s life.
In a time when overdose rates are unprecedented, Busch, with the Health Department, says distributing Narcan can be the line between life and death.
“Most people that die from opiate overdoses are in private residences or in their homes, so how can we also support those members and families who are maybe not on the job site at the time,” notes Busch.
Busch says the program has a focus on meeting people where they’re at to best serve their needs. Wobby says acceptance of the partnership has exponentially grown since the start.
“As we’ve been working with the Vermont Department of Health, we’ve been able to distribute more than 7,500 harm reduction packs, which are these little blue packs that have some great resources in them for someone who might be going through substance use disorder,” says Wobby.
“Overdoses and suicide affects every different community in Vermont, so it’s really going to take everyone coming together to address this. It’s not just a construction industry problem, it’s not just a public health problem, it’s not just a law enforcement problem,” notes Busch.
Now, Wobby and Busch are on a mission to get Narcan on every construction site throughout the state and to bring more communities together in the future.
“I’m just extremely grateful that the partnership has been going so well, and that people are so willing to do the things that are so necessary for other Vermonters,” says Wobby.
“Carry Narcan if you have someone in your life that may be at risk for overdosing. The other piece around suicide is 988, it’s an amazing resource for someone in crisis, if you yourself are having thoughts about suicide or your concerned for someone else,” notes Busch.
AGC has an upcoming distribution and educational event called ‘Burgers and Brews’ on September 27th from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Wood’s CRW Corporation in Williston.