Are Construction Workers Hit Hardest By Opioid Addiction?

By Maggie Ethridge 08/21/18

A new survey examined the occupations of those who died from opioid-related causes. 

a pair of construction workers

It’s been considered a problem for years, and a new study in Massachusetts has proven that the construction industry is the worst affected from opioid-related overdose deaths. Architecture and engineering are the only careers with higher death rates among women than men.

“The primary workforce in construction is male, and they’re twice as common to abuse prescription drugs than females,” Eric Goplerud told Forbes. Goplerud is senior vice president of the Department of Substance Abuse Mental Health and Criminal Justice Studies at NORC at the University of Chicago.

Dezeen magazine reported that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health published a report on the opioid epidemic in a state that had opioid overdose deaths more than double between 2011 and 2015. The Opioid-Related Overdose Deaths in Massachusetts by Industry and Occupation survey reviewed death certificates from those years to compile data about industry and occupation, gender, race, and age among the deaths.

Between 2011 and 2015, 5,580 Massachusetts residents died from opioid-related overdoses. Some of these deaths were excluded from the study.

Construction and extraction workers were found to make up over 24% of the total, the highest amount of any particular profession. The analysis of the study authors believe this is due to the high amount of injuries people in this field endure. The report quotes a statistic that four out of every 100 construction workers are injured on site.

"Pain is a common feature among injured workers and previous research indicates that opioids are frequently prescribed for pain management following work-related injuries, which has the potential to lead to opioid use disorders," according to Dezeen. The study was first reported by the Architect's Newspaper.

According to experts interviewed in the Forbes piece, changing the construction company owners' approach to opioid abuse is not going to be easy. Many (if not most) construction companies have a zero tolerance policy regarding positive drug tests of workers. If a worker tests positive, it often means he or she loses the job.

“You go on construction sites, and you see those signs saying ‘you’re out of there if you test positive,’” Boston Properties Life Safety and Security Assistant Director John Tello told Forbes. “It seems like there is a divide in what’s going on and what needs to be done to help these people.”

“Helping wean workers off opioids as they prepare to return to work should be part of any rehabilitation treatment,” Goplerud told Forbes.

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.