Ontario addressing opioid crisis by requiring naloxone kits for ‘at-risk’ workplaces by June 2023

By Amanda Jerome

Law360 Canada (December 14, 2022, 2:49 PM EST) -- The Ontario government is providing free naloxone kits and training to workplaces where “there is a risk of staff witnessing or experiencing an opioid overdose.” At-risk employers will be “required by legislation to ensure their workplaces have life-saving naloxone kits and workers are trained on how to use them” by June 2023.

Monte McNaughton, minister of labour, immigration, training and skills development, said “Ontario, like the rest of Canada, is in the middle of an opioid epidemic made worse by a toxic supply of recreational street drugs.”

“That’s why our government is the first in North America to require naloxone kits be accessible in at-risk workplaces by June 1, 2023, to raise awareness for those struggling with addiction, reduce stigma and save lives,” he added in a statement.

This requirement will fall under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to make naloxone “available in some workplaces in case a worker has an opioid overdose.”

According to a government release, issued Dec. 14, in 2021 “2,819 people died from opioid-related causes in Ontario — the highest number on record and up from 366 in 2003.”

Thirty per cent of the workers who died from opioid-related causes last year were “employed in construction — by far the most impacted industry,” while “bars and nightclubs have also seen increased opioid usage and accidental overdoses, often because of recreational drugs laced with deadly opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil.”

According to the government’s naloxone kit website, “employers must provide a naloxone kit when an employer becomes aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, of the following scenarios: there is a risk of a worker opioid overdose; there is a risk that the worker overdoses while in a workplace where they perform work for the employer; the risk is posed by a worker who performs work for the employer.”

“If all of these scenarios are present, the employer must comply with the OHSA requirements to provide naloxone in the workplace. If any one of these scenarios are not present, an employer does not need to comply with the OHSA requirements to provide naloxone in the workplace,” the site explained, noting that “protection from liability available under the Good Samaritan Act, 2001 would generally apply to a worker who voluntarily administers naloxone at the workplace in an emergency in response to an opioid overdose.”

Naloxone, the release explained, is a “life-saving medication that can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose, restore breathing within two to five minutes, and allow time for medical help to arrive.”

Michael Tibollo, associate minister of mental health and addictions, stressed that the “new Workplace Naloxone Program, as part of our Narcotic Transition Services, will save lives.”

“Everyone in Ontario deserves access to these kits, and this innovative program will bring a new level of safety to our province’s workplaces,” he added.

According to the release, Ontario will provide “free nasal spray naloxone kits to businesses at risk of opioid overdoses through the Workplace Naloxone Program and free training needed to equip staff with the tools to respond to an opioid overdose” for up to two years.

Businesses can “determine if they are eligible for the program and find additional information on accessing naloxone kits and training” online.

“Once the requirement is in effect, Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development’s inspectors will take an education-first approach to enforcement,” the release explained.

The release also noted that the Ministry has “hired over 100 new inspectors to build the largest workplace inspectorate in the province’s history and increased occupational health and safety fines to the highest level in the country.”

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact Amanda Jerome at Amanda.Jerome@lexisnexis.ca or 416-524-2152.