Construction workers at higher risk for opioid addiction

Nov 22 2017

The opioid crisis that has spread rapidly throughout the United States is now so severe that it is considered a national public health emergency. Much attention has been given to the widespread effect of the crisis, but there is one field where its deadly influence has been largely ignored: The construction industry.

Construction work is already one of the most hazardous job fields in the country. Construction workers often face perilous situations that put them at increased risk of workplace accidents and injuries. In addition, it has been determined that construction workers are also at increased risk of opioid addiction.

Construction in crisis

Approximately 15 percent of construction workers have used illicit drugs—the second-highest rate of illicit drug use in all job industries. Despite its prevalence, the stigma attached to opioid abuse has kept many in the construction industry from discussing it openly. Many construction workers who have abused prescription opioids decline to discuss their addictions for fear of negative repercussions. Some construction companies will not publicly discuss the issue because they may attract negative publicity, lose business, and see their insurance rates spike.

Why construction workers?

There are several theories regarding the increased risk of opioid addiction for construction workers. Some reasons for this may be:

  • Construction workers frequently deal with physical pain, or even serious injuries. In these cases, their doctors may be prescribing them addictive opioids.
  • The majority of construction workers are male, and men are two times more likely to abuse prescription drugs than women.
  • The construction force also tends to be young, and adults ages 18 to 25 use opioids more than any other demographic.
  • Many construction firms require drug testing, but do not always have control over whether the subcontractors they hire must be tested.

The consequences

This issue could even affect workers who do not use opioids, as they could be at risk of on-site injuries caused by a colleague who is under their influence. Construction workers who abuse opioids may be at higher risk of accidents or injuries—this can seem like a particularly cruel twist of fate, as it may have been an injury that led to the use of opioids in the first place.