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Peer Support Helps St. Louis Construction Workers Battling Addiction

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Wednesday, August 2, 2023   

Construction workers are more likely to die by suicide or of a drug overdose than workers in almost any other field, and a St. Louis-based peer support system and hotline wants to change it.

According to the American Addiction Centers, those who work in construction have nearly twice the rate of substance use disorders as the national average.

Don Willey, pension chairman and Trustee for Laborers Local 110, helped initiate "LEAN-STL," which stands for Laborers Escaping Addiction Now-St. Louis. He said the program's peer support specialists have lived experience, which is effective in helping others in their recovery.

"There are people that gain recovery and want to give it away and help other people attain recovery and maintain sobriety," Willey explained. "That has been the best model in dealing with people struggling with mental health issues and addiction."

Willey pointed out the construction industry is both physically and mentally taxing, and he has seen many people become addicted after being prescribed opioids for pain. He explained construction jobs have some definite benefits, but there's also the uncertainty of not knowing when the next project will come around, which can be stressful.

Willey noted LEAN STL peer support specialists are also working to help break down stigmas associated with substance use disorders, addiction and mental health. He emphasized they offer resources, not diagnoses or treatment. And he added more can still be done, not only in the construction industry, but across the board.

"We need to create an environment of free thought and speech when it comes to this topic," Willey urged. "We need to make these epidemic issues in this country as easy as talking about blood pressure, weight loss, weight gain. As easy as dealing with diabetes. It should carry no more stigma than that."

Willey stressed staying silent on the issue can be deadly. The LEAN STL program is free of charge, for Laborers' union members and their families. It's funded through the Greater St. Louis Construction Laborers Fund.

Disclosure: Laborers International Union of North America contributes to our fund for reporting on Energy Policy, Livable Wages/Working Families, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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