Opioid Use and Abuse in Construction

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November 1, 2018
Photo credit: © Can Stock Photo / iodrakon
Due to jobsite hazards and strenuous activity, pain afflicts construction workers, making them more susceptible than many other workers to substance abuse in the form of opioid misuse. Construction inflicts particular stress on backs, knees, shoulders, and other joints. The highly addictive drugs have caused 2.5 million Americans to become addicted. An estimated 15% of construction workers have a substance abuse disorder, compared to the national average of 8.6%, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the National Safety Council (2017).

In 2015, nearly 1000 construction workers across seven Midwestern states suffered fatal opioid-related overdoses, according to estimates compiled by the St. Paul, MN-based Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) in a 2018 report, titled “Addressing the Opioid Epidemic Among Midwest Construction Workers.” (See https://midwestepi.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/opioids-and-construction-final2.pdf.)

According to the report, construction workers in Ohio in 2016 were 7.24 times more likely to die of opioid overdoses than other workers in the state. The cost of the crisis to the Midwest construction industry was estimated at $5.2 billion in 2015.

The report recommends: 1) Provide health insurance that covers substance abuse and mental health treatment. 2) Adopt new policies in health plans that limit dosages of opioid medications. 3) Encourage physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications for chronic wear-and-tear injuries. 4) Educate employees about responsible prescription opioid use. 5) Provide at least two weeks of paid sick leave. 6) Update employee policies to include regular drug testing, but do not immediately fire employees who test positive. 7) Temporarily put employees on prescription opioids in low-risk positions. 8) Fund substance abuse treatment programs and workforce development initiatives.

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