Close this search box.

LIUNA Local in Canada Trying New Tactic to Fight Opioid Abuse

A LIUNA Local in Canada is taking a different approach to help members manage their pain and reduce the need for highly addictive opioids. It’s CBD oil, a chemical compound extracted from hemp. Since June of 2017, LIUNA Local 625, which represents approximately 1500 members and their dependents in Windsor, Ontario, has covered CBD oil through its benefits plan.

We wrote about CBD oil in more detail in our June issue of Lifelines. CBD oil has anti-inflammatory properties and is non-addictive. Unlike marijuana, CBD oil contains only minimal amounts of THC, the compound that gets users high and affects a person’s behavior and cognitive abilities.

Research indicates CBD oil can sometimes address pain from the muscle strains and other types of musculoskeletal injuries that often affect construction workers, although it may have a stronger effect on some people than others due to genetics. These types of injuries have often been treated with opioids, putting workers at risk for dependence and addiction. The construction industry has the highest rate of opioid abuse among all industries, a situation that’s destroying the lives of workers and their families, contributing to health and safety issues on the job and leading to a shortage of skilled labor.

Local 625 made the decision to cover CBD oil in an effort to reduce the risk of opioid abuse among members, and the interest in having this non-addictive option for treating pain is clearly there. According to LIUNA Canadian TriFund Director John Mandarino, fewer health and welfare fund claims for opioids have been submitted in the last few months, while claims for CBD oil are increasing.

“It’s getting people back to work and it’s curbing the addiction problem,” said Mandarino. “Other Locals are looking at [adding CBD oil to their benefit plans].”

Local 625’s benefit plan also covers medical marijuana, but only for retirees, disabled workers and dependents. Members who are on the job in Canada are only allowed to use CBD oil in its weakest strength. To ensure quality – and that members don’t inadvertently purchase CBD oil in a higher strength that could cause THC to show up on a drug test – members must get a prescription from a health care provider and have it filled at a dispensary as opposed to ordering the product online. They also have to pay for the prescription up front and then get reimbursed.

As it has throughout every state in the U.S., the opioid epidemic has impacted every province in Canada. Nearly 4,000 Canadians died from opioid overdoses in 2017, which is up significantly from about 3,000 opioid overdose deaths in 2016.

Like acupuncture, therapeutic massage, chiropractic care and other non-drug approaches used to manage pain previously written about in Lifelines, CBD oil is not a silver bullet. It will take time to measure the full results of this initiative, but early results are promising. At Local 625, the feeling is that if covering CBD oil keeps just one LIUNA member from getting addicted to an opioid, then the program is a success.

The LHSFNA has developed a number of materials that can provide information about addiction. Our new What to Ask Your Doctor Before Taking Opioids publication and Answering Your Questions on Opioid Abuse & Addiction pamphlet can help LIUNA affiliates looking for more information on this topic. To order these or other publications, visit our online Publications Catalogue or contact the Fund’s Health Promotion Division at 202-628-5465 for more information.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

Recent Lifelines