San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Job-Related Accidents Often Involve Drugs

SIX months ago, a fire that ravaged the south-central San José home where Santos Bonilla lived with his family left the two-year-old fighting for his life, with 86% of his body covered with burns. Fortunately for Santos, the tragedy also set into motion a wave of charitable donations that made it possible for doctors, this month, to announce that the little boy is doing well.

Leading the charge was the Shriners Club of Costa Rica, a branch of the international charitable organization that operates 22 Shriners Hospitals throughout North America to care for children with financial need. With a great deal of their own funding, as well as help from others including $33,000 from readers of The Tico Times and other media the club arranged for Santos to be flown to the Shriners Hospital in Galveston, Texas for treatment, at no charge to his family.

TODAY, Santos is OK, Dr. Roberto Steele of the National Children s Hospital, who first told the Shriners Club about Santos, said with evident satisfaction during a banquet Saturday night at the Grand Masonic Lodge in downtown San José. The Shriners Club organized the banquet to thank various organizations that helped raise money for Santos care.

The Tico Times was honored for its article by reporting intern Patsy Wilson (TT, July 15, 2005), which inspired generous readers to contribute funds toward the cause.

The type of care Santos needed is not available in Costa Rica, or in Central America, doctors told The Tico Times after the fire. The Shriners Hospitals in Galveston is one of four Shriners Hospitals that specialize in treating child burn victims.

ACCORDING to Steele, Santos left the Shriners Hospital in October and is now living in an apartment in Galveston with his father, who has accompanied him in Texas throughout his treatment. He is undergoing minor operations on one hand and foot, but these are small details, the doctor said. The U.S.-based Ronald McDonald Foundation has contributed funds toward the Bonillas day-to-day living expenses.

This is good news for a family that has suffered unimaginably. Steele said that two of Santos aunts died in the fire; another aunt cannot walk because of injuries she sustained. Santos 7-year-old sister, Blanca, was burned over 50% of her body; his 18-month-old brother Charlie, cousin Adriana, 6, and cousin Nicole, 4, also suffered burns, though all are recovering well and were treated in Costa Rica. A total of 11 people were burned in the fire.

The family lost everything, Steele said, adding that because the Bonillas are illegal Nicaraguan immigrants, they are wary of making comments to the press and have even been concerned about interviews with doctors during the proceedings.

This immigrant status could have posed problems in terms of visas for Santos and his father, but the U.S. Embassy, along with Costa Rican immigration officials, allowed them to finish their paperwork in days. The embassy was among the award recipients at the banquet.

OTHER organizations honored by the Shriners Club nobles, as they are called, included the Public Security Ministry; Real Rock 107.5 radio station; the charitable organization Activo 20-30 of Tres Ríos, east of San José; the employees of pharmaceutical company Merck, Sharp & Dohme, whose contributions help pay for the daily living expenses of Santos father; and Dr. Carlos Siri, of the Burn Center at the National Children s Hospital in San José, where Santos was first treated.

A particularly large thank-you went to Evergreen Aviation, the world s largest privately owned aviation company. Its owner, Delford Smith, donated the use of a $9- million Lear Jet Model 35A air ambulance to take Santos to Galveston, asking the Shriners to pay only for fuel, Shriners Club of Costa Rica noble Carlos Chaverría said at the banquet.

Asked about total cost of the care Santos has received to date, Chaverría and Shriners Club secretary William Schiller said they couldn t even estimate the total. However, Schiller said the worldwide Shriners Hospital basic operating budget for 2006 is $649 million, just to turn on the lights and open the doors that is, without including patient care costs.

SHRINERS Club members expect to receive notification in the coming weeks regarding Santos s possible return date to Costa Rica.

The organization was founded by members of the international Freemasonry fraternity in 1872 in New York, and founded in Costa Rica in 1984. Worldwide, it has approximately 500,000 members. Costa Rica s branch has an eye toward making intensive care such as the treatment Santos received available a little closer to home.

Sherman Quirós, Shriners Club of Costa Rica s president, said at Saturday s banquet that conversations are under way with the club s regional headquarters in Panama regarding the establishment of a regional Shriners Hospital.

For more information on the Shriners Club or Santos Bonilla, contact William Schiller at 302-7031.

HAVE you ever taken a look at your co-workers and wondered if they are high? A recent study sponsored by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission of the Organization of American States (CICAD-OAS) revealed they might be.

Nearly a third of workers who have suffered job-related accidents in Costa Rica have used illegal drugs during work hours, concludes the study, a joint effort of the Institute of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (IAFA) and the Costa Rican Institute on Drugs (ICD).

A total of 30% of the 785 injured workers surveyed admitted to illegal drug consumption 12.5% used cocaine, 10.4% smoked marijuana and 7.1% used crack.

In the realm of legal drugs, more than half (52.5%) said they used tobacco during work hours, while only 3.5% said they consumed alcohol, possibly because the effects of alcohol, such as slurred language or beer breath, are more easily detectable than other drugs, said the researchers who carried out the study.

IAFA s Franklin Jiménez, who led the study the first of its kind to be carried out in the country along with ICD official Eugenia Mata, said bills proposing an increase in advertising, now being studied by the Legislative Assembly, could increase levels of alcohol consumption by loosening regulations on alcohol advertising.

Libertarian Movement and Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) legislators have proposed bills to reform Costa Rica s Alcohol Law to allow alcoholic beverage manufacturers to sponsor sports events here (see separate article).

WHETHER involving alcohol or illegal mind-altering substances, an alarming statistical connection exists between work-related accidents and drug use, Jiménez said at a press conference held at IAFA headquarters in November to reveal the study s results.

In fact, between 3-15% of fatal injuries at work are related to alcohol and drug use, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Jiménez and Mata s work show that drug users take five times as much disability leave, especially as a result of accidents, Jiménez explained. And 69.2% of drug-users in the workplace reported having accidents in the last 30 days before the study, carried out in late 2004.

Although the study did not determine which drugs were involved in different types of work accidents reported to the National Insurance Institute (INS), the state insurance monopoly, it showed at least one in five work-related car accidents happened while the driver was under the effects of drugs.

The study also revealed that the greater number of hours worked per week, the greater the possibility of accidents, regardless of drug use.

COSTA RICA, one of 10 pilot countries participating in a CICAD-OAS initiative aimed at monitoring the social and economic cost of drug use throughout the American continent, presented the results of this study as part of a mandate of the 2000 Summit of the Americas, according to Jiménez.

The OAS initiative, whose other participating countries include Mexico, Uruguay, Barbados, El Salvador, Colombia, Chile and Argentina, could extend throughout the following decade, he said.

Participating countries tailored their studies to their needs, so The Tico Times was unable to compare injured workers drug use in Costa Rica to that in other countries.

Jiménez said advertising often heavily influences substance use, especially ads that target adolescents and young adults the population of highest risk for drug and alcohol abuse.

Teens and young adults constituted 72.2% of the 785 interviewed workers, the total number of employees who attended INS medical offices from September- November 2004. The ages of those surveyed range from 17-41.

According to Jiménez, most interviewed employees were non-agricultural skilled workers of whom 70% worked for government institutions.

OF approximately 620 articles in the country s Labor Code, which prohibits alcohol and drug use during work hours, not one mentions drug testing at work.

However, the document establishes that employers cannot request medical laboratory exams before or during a labor relationship to discriminate against an employee.

According to lawyer Ricardo Vargas, who has 40 years of experience in labor  law, it is expected that employers would give workers an opportunity to cure their addiction through a government-funded or private treatment program.

If an employee continued to take drugs after that, then a dismissal would be admissible, he said.

IAFA runs several free programs to treat addictions to legal and illegal drugs, including one for companies called Smoke-free Spaces, which IAFA started offering in May 2005.

Social worker and program coordinator Teresita Arrieta explained it is a four-stage program through which IAFA certifies companies as smoke-free spaces or spaces containing designated smoking areas in an attempt to protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke.

The program was created in 2000 by the Public Health Ministry which still grants the certifications without the training program added by IAFA, Arrieta said.

As part of its training, IAFA offers conferences and trains company personnel to educate and support their co-workers in quitting smoking, she said, adding that the program s first certifications might be awarded this year to the Municipality of Cartago, east of San José, and Casa Presidencial.

In addition to this program, IAFA offers help for those wanting to break their addiction to illegal drugs. These treatments, coordinated by Jiménez, include group or individual therapy and medication.

For more information, contact IAFA at 224-6122.

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